Please allow me to update you on my situation and raise my voice to advocate for more awareness and support for lung cancer.
Let’s start with hard facts.
The sad reality is that anyone with lungs can get lung cancer. Lung cancer accounts for 25% of cancer deaths, with more dying from lung cancer than colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined. Half of lung cancers are diagnosed at stage 4, considered incurable but treatable. With survival rates related to the stage at diagnosis, it’s no surprise that lung cancer’s five-year survival is 19%. Compare this to 93% for prostate, 88% for breast and, 65% for colon cancer.
Lung cancer is more common than we think. In 2020, doctors will diagnose almost 30,000 Canadians. Lung cancer kills 2.5 times more men than prostate cancer and 1.5 times more women than breast cancer. Despite these differences, lung cancer is chronically underfunded. Funding doesn’t match the impact of the disease. For example, of every $1.00 donated to cancer, only 7 cents goes to lung cancer, despite it accounting for more than 50% of all cancer deaths.
Why the discrepancy?
Two factors work against lung cancer – the pervasive belief that lung cancer is a smokers’ disease, a lifestyle choice, and secondly, there are few survivors to advocate. In reality, about 2/3 of new lung cancer diagnoses are in never-smokers or former smokers. Most non-smokers diagnosed with lung cancer have a different type, called non-small cell (NSCLC). Genetic mutations in the tumor cells cause it. The lung cancer community is optimistic that greater public awareness will overcome the stigma.
Hope is on the horizon!
Biomarker testing of the tumor cells is a recent development. Knowing the cancer cells’ precise cancer mutations has led to targeted therapy and another new option, immunotherapy. Both are at the leading edge of lung cancer care.
Despite a stage 4 diagnosis of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), my lung tumors are 70% smaller thanks to targeted therapy, a daily pill, going directly to my specific mutations. I’m stable, and I feel good! Thankfully, people are living longer, higher-quality lives due to these new treatments.
How to help yourself and others!
Because lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in Ontario, Cancer Care Ontario provides lung cancer screening for high-risk people. Current and former heavy smokers, age 55 to 74, are referred by their family physician to one of Ontario’s four pilot testing sites for low-dose CT scanning. It’s less risky than a regular CT scan and is more effective than a chest X-ray. If you qualify, get tested.
The early stages of lung cancer don’t produce signs or symptoms. As the disease advances, subtle signs arise, including pneumonia, frequent colds, persistent coughing, fatigue, and shortness of breath. (Other conditions can also cause these symptoms.) Unfortunately, there is no adequate lung cancer screening yet.
Another goal of lung cancer care is to get patients on the right therapy quickly. The cancer type and biomarker testing together provide critical information that determines a patient’s treatment. Access to specialized biomarker testing is limited in Canada, which is why I support Sunnybrook Health Sciences’ Lung Cancer Specialists in the need for more biomarker testing.
I’m immensely grateful to all who have supported my fund-raising initiatives. If you haven’t yet and would like to help me achieve this goal, please consider making a donation here: Sunnybrook Fundraising Page.
Please consider supporting my Fall 2021 golf tournament to raise funds for more biomarker testing at Sunnybrook Hospital. We need participants, sponsors, donors, and volunteers. If you would like to help, please contact me.
Thanks for reading and caring, for your support, good wishes, emails, and calls. My family and I appreciate the work of the team of Lung Cancer Specialists at Sunnybrook Hospital to improve the length and quality of our lives. It’s happening!
Warm wishes for safe, happy holidays and a joyous 2021!