Lung cancer kills more people each year than breast, colon, pancreatic and prostate cancer combined. And, every eight minutes, a woman in the United States loses her battle with lung cancer. It's a silent health care crisis that is projected to end the lives of 72,000 American women in 2016 alone - more than a quarter of all female cancer deaths. Driving awareness of these startling statistics is essential to helping people realize just how prevalent lung cancer is and that it can affect anyone - not just smokers.
The reality is that we can't fight lung cancer by just building more awareness. Never before has there been a more urgent need to advance treatment options and early detection. We need to invest in advanced medical research that will bring innovative treatments to the forefront to help people fight lung cancer and bring us closer to finding a cure.
Funding medical research is at the core of the American Lung Association's mission to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease. Their research builds healthier futures by bringing together the most innovative and inquisitive scientific minds to create a world free of lung disease for future generations. I recently had the opportunity to talk with Susan J. Rappaport, MPH, Vice President of Research and Scientific Affairs for the American Lung Association, and discuss the latest advancements in lung cancer research and what inspires her to find a cure.
EHB: Susan, what inspired you to join the American Lung Association team?
SR: During graduate school, I became interested in the burden of asthma. I spent a few years investigating emergency room visits in New York City, and the relationship between changes in the weather and emergency room visits by people with asthma. The job advertisement by the American Lung Association about an opening in their Epidemiology and Statistics Unit came at a welcome time. I felt that by joining the American Lung Association, I could further my knowledge of lung disease, and continue to study the environment and its impact - which I'm happy to say that I have, for 34 years!
EHB: There has been a lot of recent progress made in the field of lung cancer research. What do you feel is some of the most innovative research being conducted?
SR: Some of the most promising is in the field of immunology. Immunotherapy uses drugs that help your own immune system fight the cancer. I'm also extremely excited about new research into non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). This research continues to enhance our understanding of NSCLC from a single entity to a disease comprised of many genetically and clinically distinct groups. There's so much great lung cancer research happening, including research that the American Lung Association is actively funding, that is looking at using genomics to attack lung cancer, as well as overcoming acquired drug resistance to new targeted therapies.
EHB: We know that early detection is key to increasing survival rates for lung cancer. How will new recommendations, such as reimbursable, low dose CT scans help prolong and save lives?
SR: We believe when widely implemented, lung cancer screening will reduce lung cancer mortality by causing lung cancer to be detected at an earlier, more treatable stage. This "stage shift" in diagnosis should increase survival rates significantly. We know that when you find lung cancer earlier, it's easier to treat. We are currently funding investigations to ensure that the real-world implementation of screening mirrors the success seen in the landmark National Lung Screening Trial, where lung cancer deaths were reduced by 20 percent. The American Lung Association- funded study will examine screening in a real-world setting, with the goal of improving the effectiveness of lung cancer screening implementation and narrowing the differences in lung cancer mortality between different racial groups.
EHB: How can people learn more about the incidence of lung cancer, and what they can do to get involved and help spread awareness about the disease?
SR: Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer. I encourage anyone who wants to educate themselves about lung cancer to visit LUNGFORCE.org. There, they can learn about incidence rates, share their story, support research and participate in LUNG FORCE walks and other American Lung Association events. LUNGFORCE.org also includes educational opportunities to better understand lung cancer, and resources for both patients and caregivers.
In support of the American Lung Association's LUNG FORCE, an initiative to make lung cancer a public health priority, drive policy change and increase research funding, CVS Pharmacy locations nationwide will be conducting an in-store campaign from Sunday, May 15th through June 11th that will give customers an opportunity to donate to the initiative at the register or online. Funds raised through the in-store campaign will support health education and critical research that will lead to better treatment options and improved methods of early lung cancer detection.