Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer in America, taking more lives than breast, colorectal, and prostate cancers combined. Research holds the key to knocking lung cancer off its #1 spot. Today’s lung cancer research arena, while under-funded by the federal government, is nonetheless yielding many promising diagnostic and therapeutic approaches that need more time and funding to ensure their success. Research in the fields of lung cancer prevention, screening, and treatment shows great promise in changing the future for lung cancer patients.
Lung cancer prevention
Lung cancer has several causes. Although the vast majority (85%) of lung cancers are due to smoking, genetics and exposure to other toxins, such as radon, are also involved in disease development. While smoking prevention and cessation must remain a major medical and public health goal, understanding the other contributing causes of lung cancer can lead to additional gains in preventing the disease.
Lung cancer screening tools
We must learn to detect and treat the disease in the best, most efficient ways possible. Currently in controlled clinical trials, low-dose CT scans are being tested for people with a high risk for developing lung cancer to see if the scans will prove to save lives from lung cancer.
No matter what the outcome of the CT screening trials, CT screening is aimed at “high risk” populations (those with a heavy smoking history or other major risk exposure, such as to second-hand smoke, and those with a significant family history of the disease). Other methods are being investigated as options to screen people at high risk for the disease, and perhaps, eventually, the general population.
There is new research looking at the blood, breath, or sputum of an individual to indicate the likelihood of that person having lung cancer. If the blood, breath, or sputum tests showed an elevated risk that lung cancer might be present, a diagnostic procedure, such as a CT scan followed by a biopsy, would then be used to determine if lung cancer were present.
Lung cancer treatment
Prevention and screening are only pieces of the lung cancer research puzzle.