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Immunotherapy Drug Is Providing Exciting Results in the Treatment of Lung Cancers

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Alex was in his early 40s when he was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung Cancer. A non-smoking, healthy man, who exercises regularly and eats relatively well is not who most people think of when they think of lung cancer.  However, people exactly like Alex are the new faces of lung cancer diagnoses. Alex is also one of a select few who qualified for a new targeted therapy drug recently approved by the FDA.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death globally, causing 1.7 million deaths a year. In the United States, it is expected to kill more than 154,000 people in 2018, but recent studies are producing credible progress in finding new drugs that, when combined with more traditional chemotherapy, are greatly improving the survival rates among lung cancer patients. The findings are dramatically changing the way physicians are treating lung cancers. “What it suggests is that chemotherapy alone is no longer a standard of care,” said Dr. Leena Gandhi, a leader of the study and director of the Thoracic Medical Oncology Program at the Perlmutter Cancer Center at New York University Langone Health.

So far, four drugs called checkpoint inhibitors, which unleash the patient’s own immune system to kill malignant cells, have been approved by the FDA. “I’ve been treating lung cancer for 25 years now, and I’ve never seen such a big paradigm shift as we’re seeing with immunotherapy,” said Dr. Roy Herbst, Chief of Medical Oncology at the Yale Cancer Center.

In the trial, patients with metastatic nonsquamous non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) who received the drug pembrolizumab (Keytruda) plus chemotherapy had improved overall survival and progression-free survival compared with just chemotherapy alone.  The results from the KEYNOTE-189 clinical trial were presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) in Chicago on April 16 and published concurrently in the New England Journal of Medicine.

One of the main factors in the high rate of death due to lung cancer is that the disease is most often undetected until it has spread to other organs of the body. Lung cancer is the second most prevalent form of cancer in men and women and the top cancer killer among both sexes. In addition to the encouraging results from immunotherapy drugs, a newly discovered protein is showing promising results in detecting lung cancer earlier, providing new advanced treatment options to patients at the earliest stages of the disease. “The use of CKAP4 as a biomarker could change current practices regarding the treatment of lung cancer patients, and the diagnostic accuracies may be markedly improved by the combination of CKAP4 and conventional markers,” says Yuichi Sato, Division of Molecular Diagnostics, Kitasato University.

While the news of earlier discovery and new treatment options is very good, reducing risk factors for the disease remains the best approach to avoiding cancer. Exposure to tobacco smoke is one of the leading causes of lung cancer. Smoking marijuana and using electronic cigarettes may also increase the risk of lung cancer, but the actual risk is unknown. People who work with asbestos in a job such as shipbuilding, asbestos mining, insulation, or automotive brake repair and who smoke have a higher risk of developing cancer of the lungs. Exposure to radon has been associated with an increased risk of some types of cancer, including lung cancer. Having your home tested for the presence of Radon is a good and economical method for reducing the risk. Some people also have a genetic predisposition for lung cancer. People with parents, brothers, or sisters with lung cancer could have a higher risk of developing the cancer themselves.

Understanding cancer and how to treat it is constantly evolving toward the day when a cure is discovered. The cure is not here yet, but treatment options have greatly improved in recent decades. The treatments and methods used in clinical trials are promising in every environment in which they are tested. For more information on advancements in cancer detection and treatment, visit https://gettysburgcancercenter.com/.

Cigarette Smoking a Leading Cause of Preventable Death in United States

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On the last Sunday in November 2017, television viewers and print media readers experienced a dramatic moment that continues into this year. The three major U.S. tobacco companies were ordered by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) to issue the first in what will be a series of five “corrective statements” about their products. The corrective statements are the result of a federal racketeering lawsuit brought against the tobacco companies in 1999 by the Department of Justice. These court-ordered statements, which cover five different topic areas, explain in detail and in plain language the reality of the health harms inflicted by tobacco products upon users. Not that the harmful effects of cigarette smoking on a smoker’s health is anything new. Since the 1960’s, smokers and non-smokers alike have been bombarded with packaging warnings, public awareness campaigns and tobacco advertising bans. In case someone missed the multitude of discussions, the new statements should leave little doubt about the dangers of smoking tobacco.

Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, causing nearly 30 percent of cancer deaths across the country. Of the more than 7,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, at least 250 are known to be harmful, including hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide, and ammonia. Among those, at least 69 can cause cancer. While we are all aware that smoking causes cancer, smoking also harms nearly every bodily organ and organ system in the body and diminishes a person’s overall health. Among the cancers caused are: lung, esophagus, larynx, mouth, throat, kidney, bladder, liver, pancreas, stomach, cervix, colon, and rectum, as well as acute myeloid leukemia. Smoking also causes heart disease, stroke, aortic aneurysm, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) (chronic bronchitis and emphysema), diabetes, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, age-related macular degeneration, and cataracts, and worsens asthma symptoms in adults. There is no safe level of smoking. Smoking even just one cigarette per day over a lifetime can cause smoking-related cancers and premature death.

Despite all the good reasons to quit, kicking the smoking habit is extremely difficult. Studies show that most smokers picked up the habit as a teenager. Cigarettes contain various amounts of Nicotine, the highly addictive drug primarily responsible for a person’s addiction to tobacco products, so quitting can be very difficult even for those already diagnosed with cancer. A study by American Cancer Society researchers found that about 1 in 10 cancer survivors still reports smoking about 9 years after a cancer diagnosis. Lead author Lee Westmaas, PhD, American Cancer Society Director of Tobacco Control Research, says, “Doctors and health care providers must continue to ask survivors about their smoking and provide resources, including medications and counseling, to help them quit.”

Cessation has immediate benefits to a smoker. Ex-smokers suffer from fewer illnesses, lower rates of pneumonia and are healthier overall than people who continue to smoke. Regardless of age, smokers can substantially reduce their risk of bad health. Smokers who quit before age 40 reduce their chance of dying prematurely from smoking-related diseases by about 90%, and the reduction for those who quit by age 45-54 is about two-thirds.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) and other agencies and organizations can help smokers quit. For more information on organizations that can help you quit smoking, contact the NCI Smoking Quitline at 1–877–44U–QUIT (1–877–448–7848) for individualized counseling, printed information, and referrals to other sources.