A tough but breakable challenge
Lung Cancer With nearly 44,500 people diagnosed annually, lung cancer is the second most common malignancy in the UK after breast cancer, and the leading cause of cancer death, killing over 35,000 people every year.
Lung cancer is typically treated with surgery and radio or chemotherapy, and it’s curable if detected early. The problem is that most people are diagnosed when the condition is advanced and there are no curative therapies for it. So early detection is really important, explains Dr Jesme Fox, medical director of the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation.
She adds: “Ideally, we would like to see a national lung cancer screening programme in place, like those for breast and cervical cancer, for research shows this could potentially increase the chances of detecting the disease earlier, ultimately saving lives. As there is no such programme currently in the UK, we rely on people visiting their GP if they notice symptoms like shortness of breath, chest pain and persistent cough. Chances are they won’t have lung cancer, but if they do it may be still curable.”
For this reason, there is an urgent need to increase public awareness of lung cancer. And national campaigns appear to work well. During the first three months of the ‘Be Clear on Cancer’ campaign, which run in 2014, around 400 more people had their lung cancer diagnosed early compared with the same period of the year before.
On the treatment front, there is scope for improvement. But, Dr Fox points out that “there is also reason for optimism.” Novel therapies under development, including targeted immunotherapy, are set to make a positive difference to some lung cancer patients, in that more effective and less likely to cause side effects than conventional treatments, as a result of harnessing the immune system to fight the cancer.
“Ensuring access to proper care is crucial, too,” says Dr Fox. “For example, there is evidence that lung cancer specialist nurses can improve significantly the patient experience. And, for this, we would like to ensure that all people with the disease have access to a specialist nurse, from the moment they are diagnosed all the way through the cancer journey.”