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Celebrating Lung Cancer Survivors

By Treven Pyles

Posted on July 02nd, 2018

Although is the second most prevalent cancer in men and women, lung cancer is treatable, even curable, if caught early. Today, there are over 430,000 lung cancer survivors in the U.S. and millions of other individuals who successfully keep their disease under control with the help of competent healthcare teams.

If you have just been diagnosed with lung cancer, it's important to keep in mind that no matter where you are in this uphill journey, or what your prognosis, there is always hope. Whether it's hope for a new treatment, a clinical trial, or hope for the things you can do to improve your chances and the quality of your life today, hope always pulls you forward.

Progress in treating aggressive cancers including lung cancer continues to improve survival rates and making the scenario more likely. The 5-year survival rates for all lung cancers in the U.S. increased from 49 percent in 1975-1977 to 67 percent in 2007-2013, largely due to improvements in surgical techniques and combined therapies. According to the American Cancer Society, over 430,000 people diagnosed with lung cancer at some point, who would not have survived in the 1970s, are still alive today. It can be a real help to realize that the number of cancer survivors in the U.S. and worldwide is growing and that many of these people live fruitful, rewarding, and joyful lives following treatment.

Exposure to Asbestos Could Be a Cause of Your Current Lung Cancer Diagnosis

The first correlation between occupational asbestos exposure and lung cancer dates back to 1935. The National Cancer Institute subsequently deemed the causal relationship official and, as a result, there is now no doubt that prolonged or frequent exposure to asbestos fibers can lead to cancer of the lungs. However, unlike regular lung cancer, when it is caused by asbestos inhalation, the disease takes between 15 and 35 years to occur, as it has a long latency period. During this time, the toxic fibers which have reached the lungs and become embedded in tissue produce increasingly severe inflammation and scarring, which will eventually be replaced by a malignant tumor.

Despite the different manner in which it occurs, people suffering from lung cancer stemming from asbestos exposure usually experience the same symptoms, which include:

  • chest pain
  • difficulty breathing and swallowing
  • loss of appetite
  • fatigue
  • unexplained weight loss
  • a lingering cough
  • swelling of the face or neck
  • hoarseness
  • nail clubbing
  • wheezing
  • coughing up blood
  • recurrent respiratory infections

It is worthy of note that, in many cases, people who come to develop lung cancer will not notice any worrisome signs until their disease has progressed considerably. This is the main reason why late diagnosis is so frequent and, at the same time, why lung cancer is so deadly. Lung cancer is the culprit behind 25% of cancer-related deaths, whereas only 19% of patients live for 5 years or longer following diagnosis because their disease was discovered too tardily.

When it comes to asbestos exposure, over 6,000 Americans lose their lives annually due to lung cancer which resulted from this factor. Anyone who held down a high-risk job before 1980, such as construction worker or millwright, is prone to developing lung cancer today. Thereby, it is crucial to regularly monitor your health if you have a history of occupational asbestos exposure. By having a chest X-ray and a series of pulmonary function tests once a year, you can easily avoid finding out about a potentially fatal disease when it is too late. Furthermore, we encourage you to contact our experts afterward, as they offer asbestos screenings free of charge to anyone who handled the carcinogen in the workplace or was surrounded by it. They will carefully examine your chest X-ray and promptly let you know whether the asbestos fibers in your lungs have begun giving way to a serious disease.

How Does Early Diagnosis and Prompt Treatment Influence Life Expectancy When It Comes to Lung Cancer

Identifying lung cancer as early as possible is instrumental in ensuring a favorable prognosis and a high life expectancy. As is the case of most cancers, finding the malignant tumor before it spreads to nearby organs entails great chances of survival. When lung cancer is timely diagnosed, the patient benefits from a wide range of treatments which they can undergo with low risks of complications.

Most lung cancer survivors with early stage (I and II) non-small cell were treated with surgery in which the tumor was removed. Depending on the location, stage, type, and severity, a surgeon removes the lobe, or section, of the lung containing the tumor:

  • lobectomy - during which one or multiple lobes of the lungs affected by cancer are removed
  • pneumonectomy - it entails the resection of the entire lung and is only recommended for severe cases in which cancer has spread considerably throughout the lungs
  • wedge resection - ideal when cancer has grown on a small portion of the lung, which will be removed during this surgery
  • segmentectomy - similarly to wedge resection, a relatively tiny portion of the lung will be removed during this procedure, but not the entire lobe
  • sleeve resection - by resecting the malignant tumors and the bronchus or air passage, sleeve resection can be performed instead of pneumonectomy, as it implies lower health risks

There are currently 3 ways of performing the above-mentioned surgeries: traditional (open surgery, also known as thoracotomy), video-assisted thoracic surgery (abbreviated VATS, which is minimally invasive), and robotic-assisted surgery, the most innovative medical technique at the moment. Your surgeon is the only person who can decide which approach is the most suitable, safest, as well as the most effective for your particular situation.

Non-small cell lung cancer is also the most prevalent type among asbestos victims. To be able to assess how much detecting the disease as early as possible matters, here are the survival rates for non-small cell lung cancer by stage:

  • stage IA1 - 92%
  • stage IA2 - 83%
  • stage IA3 - 77%
  • stage IB - 68%
  • stage IIA - 60%
  • stage IIB - 53%
  • stage IIIA - 36%
  • stage IIIB - 26%
  • stage IVA - 10%
  • stage IVB - 1%

As you can see, the survival rate drops dramatically after stage II, as malignant cells start occupying a larger and larger part of the body. This is why timely diagnosis is crucial when it comes to lung cancer, particularly when it is the consequence of asbestos exposure, as it is known to progress more rapidly after onset.

Survival rates for lung cancer are different for each individual. There are many factors that can increase these numbers:

  • Younger people tend to live longer than older people with lung cancer
  • The life expectancy for women with lung cancer is higher at each stage of lung cancer
  • A good overall health condition is associated with both longer life expectancy and a greater ability to withstand treatments aimed to extend survival
  • The side effects of treatments such as chemotherapy, surgery, targeted therapies, immunotherapy, and radiation therapy vary among different people and may limit or not the patient's ability to tolerate the treatment.

When lung cancer spreads too far to be cured, and if tumor growth causes pain, the patient may choose to undergo a palliative treatment that provides pain management, addressing symptoms. Palliative treatment aims to alleviate lung cancer symptoms like pain and to help patients live more comfortably.

Remembering Lung Cancer Survivors

Honoring lung cancer survivors is of utmost importance, as anyone could be stricken by this unmerciful disease next and almost everyone knows someone who suffers from it or whose life was claimed by it. While there are countless ways you can commemorate lung cancer survivors, here are a few suggestions:

  • organize a fundraiser in your community on World Lung Cancer Day, which is on the 1st of August every year
  • donate whatever sum of money you can afford to a lung cancer research center, such as Lungcancer.org, American Lung Association, Lung Cancer Alliance, Lung Cancer Foundation of America, or LUNGevity
  • encourage local media to cover World Lung Cancer Day
  • share educational material or inspirational stories of lung cancer survivors on social media
  • bring up the topic of lung cancer in your daily conversations with your friends and family
  • challenge the misconception that only smokers can get lung cancer by confronting people with real statistics
  • if you personally know someone who suffers from lung cancer, offer to help them with something, such as cleaning their house, taking care of their pets or children, mowing their lawn, or driving them to their doctor's appointment