Despite the general public perception believing that only heavy smokers contract lung cancer, research shows that up to one in four lung cancer cases occur in people who have never smoked.
Lung cancer is the world’s leading cause of cancer death, claiming the lives of 1.2 million people across the globe every year – that’s more than prostate cancer and breast cancer combined. In South Africa, while there are not any recent stats available, according to the adjusted data from the latest Cancer Registry about 1 in 69 men and 1 in 210 women are diagnosed with lung cancer ever year.
There is also a commonly-held myth that lung cancer is a disease that targets men, when the reality is that in many countries around the world, lung cancer is a leading cause of cancer death in women.
“There is an unfair stigma associated with lung cancer,” says Leon Spamer, Brand Manager for AstraZeneca’s oncology portfolio, “that somehow it’s a disease that only afflicts heavy smokers. While smoking remains the major cause, the truth is that anyone can develop lung cancer. What’s more, it is usually diagnosed in its later stages, at which point it’s often incurable, with most patients surviving only a few months.
“However, if diagnosed early enough lung cancer is successfully treatable. Even non-smokers shouldn’t be complacent. If they see any of the warning signs, such as coughing up spit or phlegm, especially where it contains blood, then they should speak to their GP immediately,” suggests Spamer.
Alongside the myths about causes and frequencies of lung cancer, there is widespread lack of knowledge about the range of therapies that are available. The recent identification of distinct forms of the disease is helping clinicians to predict which patients will respond best to which treatments, permitting lung cancer to be treated in a more targeted, personalised way.
“What is really important for patients is the chance of controlling their symptoms and their quality of life,” explains Dr Alison Armour, trained oncologist and Global Medical Science Director for AstraZeneca. “Traditional treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, have very unpleasant side-effects. In some cases these treatments are now being replaced by a range of other, more personalised medical therapies.
Patients and their physicians need to be more aware of the choices that they have. And we want to move towards a situation where patients and their family members are increasingly empowered and taking control of their disease.”
Dr Armour concludes: “We want everyone to have more knowledge about lung cancer. From how to spot the signs, to what to ask your GP or physician to do if you’re unfortunate enough to be diagnosed. The reality is that in the time it takes a reader to finish this article two more people in the world will have died from the disease.”
Signs of lung cancer
- Chest pain.
- A cough that doesn't go away within three weeks or gets worse over time.
- Coughing up more spit or phlegm, especially if there is blood in it.
- Shortness of breath, wheezing or hoarseness.
- Repeated chest infections that don't respond to antibiotics.
- Swelling of the face and neck or fingertips.
- Weight loss for no obvious reason, or loss of appetite.
- Loss of voice without a sore throat.
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