Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among men and women but is also among the most preventable, according to the American Cancer Society.
“Currently, most lung cancer patients are people who either smoked or were exposed to secondhand smoke from their families,” said Ahmad Raza, M.D., medical director at NewYork-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital’s Cancer Center and assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Hematology and Oncology at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Lung cancer deaths are still high although baby boomers and older people have the highest smoking rates compared to younger generations. Current advancements in diagnostics and treatments are reducing death rates, but screening is key.
“The goal of screening is to diagnose lung cancer at a more curable stage,” Dr. Raza said. “Recent studies show that survival rates are improving thanks to screening.”
Do You Smoke or Have a History of Smoking?
Current and past smokers can greatly benefit from a lung cancer screening, which can detect it at the earliest stages.
“Stage 1 lung cancer usually has the best cure rate,” Dr. Raza said. “When lung cancer is detected outside of screening, typically because of symptoms, it may have spread to the lymph nodes and beyond. At this point, the opportunity for curative resection—a surgical procedure that removes the malignant tissue—or other effective treatment, is diminished.”
Lung cancer screening is recommended for anyone between 55 and 80 years old who has a history of heavy smoking, currently smokes, or has quit within the past 15 years, according to the U.S. Preventive Services Taskforce. Heavy smoking is defined as smoking one pack every day for 30 years or two packs every day for 15 years.
Treatment Is Evolving
Previously, people with stage 3 or 4 lung cancer had little hope for a cure, but novel research and advanced treatments are saving more lives.
“A few decades ago, our only treatments for advanced lung cancer were radiation therapy and chemotherapy,” said Mark Stoopler, M.D., FACP, board-certified medical oncologist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Cancer Center and NewYork-Presbyterian’s Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center, a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center.
“Now, we are seeing tremendous innovation in cancer treatments as the biology of lung cancers becomes better understood,” said Dr. Stoopler who also serves as an associate professor of medicine at Columbia University. “Now that we’re more aware of distinctions between different lung tumors, we are able to tailor more personalized treatments.”
The introduction of genetic profiling of cancer to look for specific mutations is one promising development. This allows for targeted drug therapy, usually administered in pill form, which can be more effective and less toxic than chemotherapy.
Also, the adaptation of immunotherapy—treatment that can boost your immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells—has helped to cure select lung cancers, including advanced-stage lung cancer.
“Several clinical trials are underway to determine the best way to administer therapies, which could mean combining or sequencing different therapies,” said Dr. Stoopler.
Under the direction of Lawrence Koutcher, M.D., medical director of radiation oncology at NewYork-Presbyterian Hudson Valley, advanced radiation treatment and therapy is another option for cancer patients. “We use advanced technology and therapy that zeroes in on cancer while sparing nearby healthy tissue, resulting in fewer side effects than conventional radiation therapy,” said Dr. Koutcher.
“An important part of any treatment is support. We have a very professional and compassionate team that works together to support all of our patients throughout their treatment,” Dr. Koutcher said.
At NewYork-Presbyterian Hudson Valley, patients receive expert academic-level oncology care.
“All the oncologists at NYP Hudson Valley have faculty appointments at the Columbia University medical school, a major medical center, which brings academic-level oncology care to our community,” said Dr. Stoopler, who established a multidisciplinary thoracic oncology tumor board attended by medical oncologists, thoracic surgeons, radiation oncologists, pathologists, radiologists, pulmonologists, oncology nurses, social workers and others at the hospital. “We meet regularly to review interesting and challenging cases and get input from other specialists to come to a treatment recommendation. This isn’t unique—it’s done at major cancer centers, but it is unique for a smaller hospital like ours to have a disease-specific tumor board that provides such high-level expertise.”
To learn more, visit nyp.org/hudsonvalley/cancer.