It’s no secret that oncologists and cancer
researchers have made pitifully little progress against lung cancer,
even compared to the less-than-stellar progress against other cancers,
as I explained in a recent story. But as the Lung Cancer Alliance, a
patient-advocacy group, details in its annual report card—filled
with F’s—the news is so grim that it is impossible to avoid the
conclusion that we need a whole new approach to this tragic disease.
Some of the highlights—or lowlights—include the fact that lung cancer
remains the nation’s #1 cause of cancer death: it will claim another
162,000 lives by the time 2008 ends, triple the number of deaths from
prostate cancer, nearly twice as many deaths as from breast cancer and
more than from breast, prostate, colon, leukemia, ovarian and cervical
cancer combined. Nor has there been any progress on five-year survival:
only 15% of patients make it to this milestone, compared to 89% for
breast cancer, 99% for prostate cancer and 65% for colon cancer. Because
there is no good early-screening technique, only 16% of lung cancers
are diagnosed at an early, potentially-curable stage. That compares to
61% for breast cancers, 91% of prostate cancers and 39% of colon
Why is progress essentially nonexistent? Lung cancer is particularly tricky in terms of its genetics, with malignant cells amassing countless mutations that, among other things, allow them to outfox both standard chemotherapies and newer targeted molecular drugs including angiogenesis inhibitors. There’s nothing we can do about that basic biology.
But oncologists tell me there is another reason: there is such stigma attached to lung cancer, because of the view that only people stupid enough to smoke develop it and it is therefore their own dumb fault, that research funding remains criminally tight, especially compared to “celebrity” cancers such as breast and prostate. Lung cancer doesn't have the celebrity spokespeople that these cancers do, so less money is raised from the public. it doesn't have anything like the pink ribbons and "runs for the cure" of breast cancer, for the same reason. In other words, it's not even a fair fight.