Lung cancer is the most common cancer worldwide, and in the Philippines, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths.
November has been identified as the Lung Cancer Awareness Month, which aims to raise awareness regarding lung cancer and provide support to patients and their loved ones.
Dr. Diana Edralin, country medical director of Roche (Philippines) Inc., says lung cancer prevention is an important public health advocacy. “Lung cancer prevention involves proper diet and adequate exercise, avoiding pollution, and most importantly, avoiding smoking and secondhand smoke. There is no way to totally prevent lung cancer, and the fight against it is challenging,” Edralin said.
She said treatment options for patients with lung cancer, depend on the type, whether it is non-small cell lung cancer [NSCLC] or small cell lung cancer [SCLC], and how far it has grown and spread in the body. SCLC is less common but much more aggressive than NSCLC.
For many patients with lung cancer, the disease is diagnosed when it is already at an advanced stage when it has already spread or metastasized, thus making it more difficult to treat.
“Fortunately, with strong interest in lung cancer in the medical community, there is now a wide variety of treatment options for people with lung cancer, giving patients many different options to achieve positive outcomes,” said Edralin.
The main treatment for early-stage lung cancer is surgery to remove the tumor itself or the area where cancer has developed. However, surgery may be a challenge in patients with other complicated medical conditions, and older patients who may not be able to tolerate the operation.
Edralin said chemotherapy is a common treatment strategy which involves the use of powerful drugs that directly attack cancer cells and stop it from growing and spreading. For some cases, chemotherapy is used after lung cancer surgery to further eradicate cancer cells.
“Chemotherapy may inadvertently affect normal cells of the body, not just the cancer cells, so there are side effects that need to be managed appropriately by an oncologist,” she said.
“Another treatment option is radiotherapy, which uses bursts of radiation targeted specifically at cancer cells. Radiotherapy can be effective in relieving symptoms of lung cancer, and may prolong survival of patients,” Edralin said.
For lung cancer diagnosed at advanced stages, Edralin said chemotherapy and radiotherapy have proven to be effective.
“They are also effective for the more aggressive lung cancer type, SCLC. One of the main drawbacks of chemotherapy and radiotherapy are their side effects. For example, patients may experience fatigue, hair loss, and blood abnormalities,” she said.
Research continues to allow doctors to optimize treatment regimens, giving patients the maximum benefits while minimizing side effects, she said.
The medical official said an emerging type of treatment is called targeted therapy. Targeted therapy (also called biological therapy) focuses on disrupting the cellular processes that allow cancer cells to divide and propagate so rapidly unlike chemotherapy and radiotherapy, which directly kill cancer cells.
Some are focused on making cancer cells more vulnerable to chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
Edralin also said that immunotherapy is an emerging treatment option for lung cancer. Immunotherapy works by activating the body’s immune system so that your own immune cells are the ones that attack cancer and stop it from growing and spreading.
“Because immunotherapy does not directly attack the cancer, research has shown that there may be less side effects and patients are able to tolerate it better than chemotherapy. Patients may also survive longer with a better quality of life. This means more time spent with their loved ones, and more time being productive,” Edralin said.
Edralin said that no matter the treatment, survival rates in lung cancer are best in the early stages, and these drastically decrease as the disease progresses.
“Catching the disease early is, therefore, the key to successful treatment. Symptoms do not show until the later stages of lung cancer, but yearly testing can help achieve earlier diagnoses. This is why yearly testing is recommended for smokers or ex-smokers older than 55 years of age, who are the most at-risk for lung cancer. It is best to consult your medical oncologist for more information on lung cancer, and learn more about the available and emerging treatment options,” she said.