Lung Cancer Survivors Find Reason for Hope

By Nancy Chan

David Jablons

In a room overflowing with people at the UCSF Comprehensive Cancer Center, David Jablons, MD, professor and chief of thoracic surgery, gave the audience, many of whom are patients under his care, a reason to hope. "We are making progress - there are exciting sciences that are being advanced," said Jablons. "With early detection, lung cancer is curable. We can't accept the status quo that only 15 percent survive five years and only 5 percent survive 10 years." Jablons cited a landmark study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine by Claudia Henschke, MD, PhD, and David Yankelevitz, MD, the founders and principal investigators of the International Early Lung Cancer Action Program. Results from the 13-year study on screening for lung cancer demonstrated that if lung cancer is detected and treated early, 88 percent of patients could expect to live 10 years or more. "We have the technologies, and the words 'lung cancer' and 'cured' do go together in a sentence," he said. Joyce Neifert, co-chair of Lung Cancer Alliance - California, followed up Jablons' remarks by seconding, "With screening, we finally have something to talk about." For Thierry Jahan, MD, associate clinical professor of medicine, treating lung cancer patients is no longer palliative care. "We're in an era where treating patients with lung cancer is beneficial for their survival and their quality of life," he said. "We're getting closer to the days when we are not using the harsh drugs. We have drugs today that are now effective and not toxic." Surviving Lung Cancer Judging by the innumerable framed proclamations and resolutions displayed, city governments from throughout the region were in agreement that National Lung Cancer Awareness Month is a big deal. The proclamations, which cited November as the month to recognize this leading cause of cancer death in the United States, were set up as the backdrop to a Nov. 17 panel discussion, titled "Lung Cancer: New Insights - New Hope," hosted by UCSF Thoracic Oncology and by Lung Cancer Alliance - California.

From left, Joyce Neifert, Angie Lee Ow, Lori Hope, Joyce Lavey, Natalie Olsen, RN, and Thierry Jahan at the event.

From left, Joyce Neifert, Angie Lee Ow, Lori Hope, Joyce Lavey, Natalie Olsen, RN, and Thierry Jahan at the Nov. 17 lung cancer event.

"As evidenced by all of these acknowledgments, lung cancer does matter and people are paying attention," said Neifert. The event was an opportunity to invite cancer survivors and their family members to a session to hear UCSF faculty and lung cancer survivors speak on new developments and living with the disease. Guest speaker Lori Hope, a four-year lung cancer survivor and author, spoke about the importance of communicating cancer sensitivity. She was joined by 17-year breast cancer survivor and two-year lung cancer survivor Joyce Lavey in speaking out about the stigma that lung cancer is associated with smoking. More than 87 percent of lung cancers are smoking-related, with one in 10 smokers developing lung cancer. For people who quit smoking, the risk is reduced significantly, although former smokers are still at greater risk than individuals who never smoked. Angie Lee Ow, a lung cancer survivor and chair of a support group from Sacramento, asked members of the audience to identify themselves as lung cancer survivors by standing. More than three-quarters of the crowd stood up. "We're all survivors, and our survivorship began the day we were diagnosed," said Ow. The purpose of the community event was both to recognize National Lung Cancer Awareness Month and to make lung cancer survivors know that they are not alone. With an estimated 172,570 new cases of lung cancer diagnosed in 2005, or 13 percent of new cancer cases, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States. More than 50 percent of new lung cancer cases are diagnosed at a very late stage - Stage 3 or 4 - and only 5 percent will live for five years. For more information on early detection and screening, visit here Related Links: Lung Cancer Alliance Lori Hope