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November 19, 2020

Advances in Lung Cancer Treatment Resulting in Lower Death Rates

Advances in Lung Cancer Treatment Resulting in Lower Death Rates

In recent years, the rate of lung cancer deaths has fallen quite a bit in the United States. Scientists believe that some of this change comes from lower smoking rates across the country. With fewer people smoking in the past decade, there are fewer cases of lung cancer and, as a result, fewer deaths. What else is contributing to the drop in lung cancer death rates?

About Lung Cancer Death and Survival Rates

According to the American Lung Association, the number of lung cancer deaths in the United States peaked in 2005 and has continued to decrease every year since. While lung cancer has been, and continues to be, the leading cause of cancer-related deaths among both women and men in the United States, things are starting to improve!

Survival rates have increased. This means there are more people living for several years after a lung cancer diagnosis than ever before. This was made possible through clinical research. Patients with lung cancer have been willing to try new treatment options as part of a clinical trial. The results have been promising and new lung cancer treatments are being introduced for all patients to access.

The Rise of Targeted Drug Therapies and Immunotherapy for Lung Cancer

In the past, patients were given chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy along with surgery in some cases to treat lung cancer. Because lung cancer can grow for a while before it’s noticed, this was causing patients to have a poor prognosis -- or likelihood of recovery.

But two newer categories of cancer therapy have been introduced into the lung cancer treatment process and have changed the prognosis to be much more positive for many patients.

Targeted therapy for lung cancer

As part of the diagnosis process, today oncologists will also test the lung cancer for biomarkers. This test will look for DNA changes in the tumor. If there are genetic changes found, targeted therapy may be an option. Targeted therapy can “target” these DNA changes so that the cancer cells aren’t able to continue growing. One great benefit of this type of lung cancer treatment is that normal cells aren’t killed along with the cancerous cells. This means there are fewer side effects when targeted therapy is used.

There is one gene mutation often found in lung cancer patients that produces too much a protein called epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR). Targeted therapy can block EGFR, slowing or stopping the growth of the cancer cells.

There are other targeted therapies that block blood vessels from growing in the tumor. By blocking the blood that the tumors need, they can’t continue to reproduce more cancerous cells.

Not all lung cancer patients qualify for using targeted therapy which is why your oncologist will test for this early in the treatment process.

Immunotherapy for Lung Cancer

This newer treatment for lung cancer uses the patient’s own immune system to fight off the cancer cells. It’s quite amazing and plays a big role in the outcomes for lung cancer patients over the past 10 years. There are a few types of immunotherapy for lung cancer, but one of them has been FDA approved while the others are still under investigation through clinical trials. (You should ask your oncologist about clinical trial options to see if one of these newer, revolutionary treatments could be available to you.)

Lung Cancer Clinical Research Results

Multiple clinical studies have tied these new categories of lung cancer treatments, such as targeted drugs and immunotherapy, to lower death rates. This indicates that these new treatments have made a difference in outcomes for lung cancer patients across the country. One study, conducted by the US National Cancer Institute, looked at data published on the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results database, or SEER. The data included in the study was taken from local cancer registries' data, as well as lung cancer mortality rates.

The researchers found that death rates for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) have fallen faster than the rate of new cases. This means that, even though fewer people were getting lung cancer, death rates were falling at a higher rate. And that change was because of these new lung cancer treatments for NSCLC.

Researchers in this study also looked at Small Cell Lung Cancer and the number of new diagnoses as well as the rate of death during the same dates. Because targeted therapy and immunotherapy aren’t available for SCLC patients, the death rate was on pace with the number of new cases. This tells us that the lower death rate for SCLC was really only related to fewer cases because fewer people are smoking.

The Future of Lung Cancer Treatment is Promising

Targeted drug therapies and immunotherapy are relatively new methods for treating several types of cancer including Non-small Cell Lung Cancer. While they’re proven, there is a lot more research going on now and there is more to come. Cancer Care Centers of Brevard offers clinical research for cancer patients, including lung cancer patients, for various types of therapy. We’re proud to be a part of the great work being done to help find new and revolutionary cancer treatments.

Find out more about cancer research available in Brevard County.

Categories: Lung Cancer