Tag Archives: lung cancer

World lung cancer day

August 1 is World Lung Cancer Day.

According to the World Health Organization, there were 2.09 million lung cancer cases in 2018 and 1.76 million deaths. Almost everywhere, 5-year survival is less than 20 percent. Despite spending millions of dollars, making advances in molecular biology, immunology, and genetics-related research, building knowledge of cancer epidemiology, improving health care facilities, studying early detection, and raising awareness among the general public about the risks of tobacco use and exposures to environmental and other risk factors, there is still no cure.

Worldwide, lung cancer occurs more frequently than other diseases such as colorectal cancers, liver, stomach, breast or even non-melanoma skin cancers.  In men, lung cancer is a significant cause of death; greater than either prostate or colorectal cancer. In women, it is a greater cause of death than either breast, or colorectal cancer. In fact, for both men and women, one out of every four cancer deaths is from lung cancer.

And this is not a disease that spares countries, although frequencies in men and women vary. For example, recent statistics suggest that Hungary, Serbia, and Korea lead the lung cancer frequency field for men, whereas Denmark, Canada, and the United States lead the field for women. We must also be aware that cancer outcomes differ according to socioeconomic status. In many countries, research shows that racial and ethnic minorities receive lower-quality care. 

Tobacco has a causal relationship with lung cancer, as do second-hand smoke exposure, exposure to certain environmental and chemical risk factors such as radioactive ores, radon, diesel gas, certain inhaled chemicals and minerals, and even arsenic in drinking water. Some believe there is a genetic predisposition to lung cancer; risks are increased in case of family members with a history of the disease. Studies are needed to elucidate whether this is from genetic, environmental or lifestyle-related commonalities. 

Another well-known environmental risk for lung cancer is asbestos, which also causes malignant pleural mesothelioma. I was recently climbing in New Caledonia, an island of about 300,000 people (with more than 100 tribes in 33 communes) in the Southwest Pacific Ocean. According to statistics, this French collectivity is surprisingly high on the list of countries with a preponderance of lung cancer (possibly associated with local asbestos exposures).

Interventional pulmonologists dedicate much of their energy to helping diagnose and treat patients with lung cancer. While significant advances have been made, a certain therapeutic nihilism is still seen in many countries. Eliminating such a mindset everywhere would be a marvelous step toward eradicating this terrible disease.

Please subscribe to Colt’s Corner to automatically receive an email notification of future posts. Sign up with your name and email on the NEWSLETTER button on the Bronchology International home page at  www.bronchoscopy.org.

Genotype-directed lung cancer: a new frontier for bronchoscopists

(Photo downloaded from pixabay.com)

As we quickly approach 2019, I am thinking about what is new and exciting in the field of interventional pulmonology. Among energizing advances, one of the most exciting is how individualized genotype-directed therapy is changing our approach to lung cancer diagnosis and treatment. 

Fueled by research performed in the United States and Europe, increasing numbers of cancer treatment protocols include targeted therapy. These produce less collateral damage than traditional chemotherapy, with survival benefits that are often better than those of protocols implemented without concerns for tumor genetics. According to some Lung Cancer Mutation Consortium data, for example, patients who received driver mutation targeted therapy with tyrosine kinase inhibitors had a median survival of 3.5 years as compared to 2.4 years for those who did not receive such treatment (http://www.golcmc.com). 

Not surprisingly, targeted therapy is also a major focus for Chinese physicians and cancer researchers. In part, this is because China has forty percent of the world’s cancer population. According to last year’s National Cancer Center data, survival figures for Chinese patients with advanced lung cancer were many percentage points below those of Western nations. A principal focus for the Chinese in coming years is to significantly increase survival ranges for patients with cancer, including for those with lung cancer.

Unhampered by strict regulations that delay its use in the United States, China is forging ahead with CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing trials. CRISPR/Cas9, originally created by biochemists Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier, stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. It refers to palindromes, or repeating patterns of DNA that are found in most single-celled organisms and many bacteria. CRISPR/Cas9 technology is used to essentially “cut and paste” DNA sequences. Cancer researchers use CRISPR technology to study, replace, or repair the genetic code of tumors, which includes work on genetic drivers responsible for tumorigenesis, metastasis, and drug susceptibility.

Lung cancer management today requires in-depth understanding of gene mutation and genetic engineering. This new frontier is  both challenging and invigorating for bronchoscopists and interventional pulmonologists who are increasingly called upon to make diagnoses and provide tissue samples that help guide therapy. 

Because many patients with primary or metastatic lung cancer have central airway obstruction, specialists are also called upon to perform minimally invasive therapeutic procedures in these patients. This makes a recent article published in the November issue of The Journal of Thoracic Oncology all the more relevant (A. Mohan, K. Harris, MR Bowling et al., http://dx.doi.org/10.21037/jtd.2018.08.14). In this review paper, the authors reflect on the eventual merging of bronchoscopic ablative strategies with genotype-directed therapies in the name of what is known as precision medicine (defined as an emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention that takes into account individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle for each person). Reflecting on how these therapies might interact, the authors conclude that, “ground breaking advances in our understanding of driver mutations of lung cancer and in the technology available for bronchoscopic ablation have completely changed the landscape of advanced lung cancer management.”  

As a result of this changing landscape, bronchoscopists and interventional pulmonologists have an opportunity to assume leading roles on their multidisciplinary lung cancer management teams. Taking on leadership responsibilities, however, means rethinking one’s education and training. In addition to acquiring procedural expertise and medical knowledge, there is a need to study team-building, communication, medical decision-making, and business administration. These topics should be incorporated into the agendas of national conferences and training workshops.

Those with an eye on the future will also pursue postgraduate education in molecular biology and genetic engineering. More exposure to these topics must also become a priority for our international and national medical societies. Only thus can we effectively equip a new generation of physician-scientists with the knowledge, skill and extrinsic motivation needed to expand the exciting new frontiers set forth by today’s researchers in medicine, biological sciences, and industrial biotechnology.