By Own Correspondent – November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, a global initiative to: reduce the stigma surrounding lung cancer, help educate and empower people suffering from the disease, encourage more research into new therapies and highlight the fact that early and appropriate treatment results in better clinical outcomes.
More than 1 million worldwide die as a result of lung cancer each year – more than breast, prostate and colorectal cancer combined. However, with early diagnosis and the correct treatment, patient’s lives can be significantly extended.
The number of non-smokers being diagnosed with NSCLC is increasing globally. About 25% of lung cancers worldwide are not attributable to smoking. Based on global statistics, it is estimated that 15% of lung cancers in men and 53% in women are not attributable to smoking.
In South Africa, lung cancer is the second most common cancer in men and the sixth leading cancer in women in terms of diagnosis. The main cause of lung cancer is tobacco smoking, and risk increases with the amount of cigarettes smoked and how long the person has smoked. About 60% of all lung cancer deaths in South Africa are due to tobacco smoking and over 8% of all deaths are due to smoking. Over 42 000 South Africans a year die of tobacco-related diseases, which include lung cancer.
Lung cancer patient groups around the world are this month embarking on creating awareness of the disease with the aim of educating the public. Roche Products (Pty) Ltd is supporting lung cancer awareness month in the interest of public health education.
In order to create more awareness about lung cancer, patient Carla-Jane Gluckman has challenged her family along with members of the media, to participate in a fire-fighting training course at the Epping Fire Department training centre in Cape Town on November 18. Carla will cheer them on from the sidelines as they participate on her behalf. Media are invited to attend this challenge to highlight the importance of air and how vital it is to the existence of man and to fire. In the words of Carla: “I was continually putting out fires in trying to beat my cancer”.
When Carla-Jane Gluckman, developed a cough in 2002 that lasted a year, she attributed it to an allergy common to her family but, at the insistence of her mother, underwent an X-ray which revealed a 2.5 centimetre tumour on her lung. This led to her diagnosis of adenocarcinoma – non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Eight years later, Carla is still undergoing treatment, and is living a full life.
In 2002, the then 32-year-old Capetonian underwent surgery to remove her lung’s left upper lobe in a procedure called a thorocotomy. This was followed by chemotherapy. In her younger days, she was a social smoker, so when diagnosed, she was in disbelief as she was non-smoker.
“When I was diagnosed with lung cancer, I was in such disbelief and was so ignorant about cancer that my first response was: Does this mean I get to join Reach for a Dream?” she says. Five years post her first diagnosis two tumours were discovered on her spine. “Cancer is an opportunistic disease. It lurks,” she says
It was a difficult time for the film industry make-up artist. She was divorced whilst on treatment.
Cancer was next detected in her bones and in her search for newer therapies that offer patients improved quality of life and extended survival, Carla’s treatment focus switched in 2008 to an innovative and oral therapy which is an EGFR inhibitor and specifically targets the cancer.
Joining her is another survivor, Ramao da Luz, a 43 year old and the owner of a 42-room boutique hotel in Sea Point, Cape Town. He started smoking at 17, and soon developed a pack-a-day habit but stopped 10 years ago, shortly after his daughter was born.
Lung cancer is characterised by the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells inside the lung. There are two main forms of lung cancer: non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer.
NSCLC is the most common form of lung cancer, globally accounting for approximately 80% of all cases. Generally symptoms do not manifest until the disease has progressed, making lung cancer difficult to treat.
Risk factors include smoking, a family history of lung cancer and exposure to asbestos and radon gas.
Symptoms include shortness of breath and/or wheezing, a chronic cough and/or repeated bouts of bronchitis, hoarseness, chest pain and loss of weight and appetite for no known reason.
Lung Cancer treatment options
Treatment options vary in accordance with the type and stage of the cancer – its size, position and whether it has spread and the physical condition of the patient. In general, the treatment options for NSCLC are:
- Surgery and radiotherapy: Early stage, localised NSCLC (that is, cancer that has not spread to any surrounding tissue) may be successfully treated using surgery and radiation. Up to 70% of patients with NSCLC survive for at least 5 years after diagnosis if treated at this stage, with a proportion of these patients being cured.
- Chemotherapy: The majority of NSCLC cases are diagnosed at an advanced stage7 when the cancer has already spread to another part of the body and can no longer be successfully removed by surgery and therefore chemotherapy is used to treat patients. In spite of the use of chemotherapy as the first-line treatment option, less than 5% of advanced NSCLC patients survive for 5 years and most die within 6 months.
- Targeted therapy for NSCLC: Patients and doctors now have newer treatment options available for advanced stage NSCLC. Innovative therapies such as anti-VEGF therapy and oral EGFR therapy have shown a significant survival benefit in patients suffering from advanced NSCLC.
- Anti-VEGF therapy (also known as anti-angiogenic therapy) is a therapy that blocks the activity of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), a protein that stimulates the growth, survival, and repair of blood vessels in and around a tumour. By inhibiting the actions of VEGF, – this type of cancer therapy starves tumours of the blood supply that is critical to their growth and spread throughout the body.
- Oral EGFR therapy is an epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) oral targeted agent with a proven and significant survival and symptom benefit in a broad range of patients with advanced NSCLC, This type of therapy specifically targets and blocks EGFR only in tumour cells without harming normal cells. EGFR is one of the molecular pathways found in abnormally high levels on the surface of many types of cancer cells and is essential to the growth and spread of cancer cells.
Roche whose Headquarters is in Basel, Switzerland, is a leader in research-focused healthcare with combined strengths in pharmaceuticals and diagnostics. Roche is the world’s largest biotech company with truly differentiated medicines in oncology, virology, inflammation, metabolism and CNS. Roche is also the world leader in in-vitro diagnostics, tissue-based cancer diagnostics and a pioneer in diabetes management. Roche’s personalised healthcare strategy aims at providing medicines and diagnostic tools that enable tangible improvements in the health, quality of life and survival of patients. Genentech, United States, is a wholly owned member of the Roche Group. Roche has a majority stake in Chugai Pharmaceutical, Japan.
Additional information:– About lung cancer: www.lungcancercoalition.org