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.