Lung Cancer As A Chronic Disease
I think that a big goal for those of us in the lung cancer community is for us to get to where lung cancer is considered a chronic disease. Many of us advocate for better funding, better research, and better awareness.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) chronic diseases are defined broadly as conditions that last 1 year or more and require ongoing medical attention or limit activities of daily living or both. To most, it would sound like lung cancer would qualify but I do not think that lung cancer can be put into this category yet and I will tell you why.
Thinking of lung cancer as a chronic disease
The problem with saying that lung cancer is a chronic disease is because not all of us live past the one-year mark. More than half of people with lung cancer die within one year of being diagnosed. After one is diagnosed with lung cancer, we often look for those who have also been diagnosed. I have met so many people with this disease and each one of us is different. I have met newly diagnosed people and even some that have been living with this disease for more than twenty years.
Understanding lung cancer
Lung cancer is not one disease. The two main types of lung cancer are non-small cell and small cell. The subtypes of non-small cell lung cancer are adenocarcinoma, squamous cell, or large cell carcinoma. There is also the chance to have a neuroendocrine tumor in the lung, carcinoid tumor, or mesothelioma.
Once you know the main type and the subtype cancer can be checked for mutations or biomarkers. There have been many mutations identified in lung cancer. The main two seen are EGFR (Epidermal growth factor receptor) and ALK (anaplastic lymphoma kinase).
Research funding matters
How can we get lung cancer to be a chronic disease? I do not think that there is an easy answer to this. To start we need better funding for research. Less money is spent on lung cancer research than most other cancers. In recent years, the National Cancer Institute estimated that our government spent over $11,000 per breast cancer death for research, and $1100 per lung cancer death. Even though lung cancer takes almost twice as many women as breast cancer.1
We need greater awareness and support
Another way for us to get lung cancer to be a chronic disease is to have better awareness. The stigma behind lung cancer is that you must have had to smoke to get it. I have heard a few times where people were ashamed that they were diagnosed with lung cancer because they feel that they deserved this disease. On the flip side many people (including myself) think that since they do not smoke, they are safe from getting this disease. This is very far from the truth and we say that all you need are lungs to get lung cancer. How can we get this message out so that people can be more in tune with their bodies and we can get this disease to a point where we catch it at its earliest stages?
In summary, I do not feel that lung cancer can be considered chronic because not all of us live one year post-diagnosis and lung cancer is many diseases with one label. The best way for us to get it to be chronic is better funding and better research. We need to find a way to get people screened to find the disease in its earliest stages. We need to end the stigma.
Do you enjoy the holiday season?