Early Screening is the Best Weapon to Beat Lung Cancer

Lung cancer remains the Philippines’ number one cause of cancer deaths among men and number three among women (Philippine Council for Health Research and Development), no thanks to smoking.

Around 80%–90% of lung cancer incidences are smoking-related. It is encouraged to avoid cigarette smoking to prevent acquiring the disease.

But what if the cancer is already there?

This is what happened to the father of TV and media personality Diego Castro that prompted him to become an ambassador of the multi-stakeholder movement, Hope from Within: Test, Talk, and Take Action – a lung cancer awareness, education, and prevention campaign.

Diego’s father, renowned broadcast anchor Angelo Castro Jr., passed away from lung cancer in 2012 after having been diagnosed just four years earlier. “He began smoking when he was 10 years old,” revealed Diego. “But he had already quit around 10 years prior to his diagnosis.”

As with many lung cancer patients, persistent cough was what led the elder Castro to the doctor. After having been diagnosed, he initially sought alternative treatments and remained to be in relatively good health despite having been given an initial prognosis of only a few months to live.

Angelo eventually submitted to medical doctors and underwent chemotherapy for up to two years. The disease, however, had progressed which led to his eventual death.

This story is much more common than we may imagine. Lung cancer develops without signs or symptoms, so in the early stages when it is most treatable, the disease often goes undetected.


LUNG CANCER SCREENING

Specifically, for lung cancer, it is important for those at high risk to get screened so that the disease can be addressed immediately, according to Dr. Ivy de Dios, oncology medical adviser of global biopharmaceutical company MSD in the Philippines. “Any persistent cough should be looked into,” she added.

The American Cancer Society recommends yearly lung cancer screening to people aged 55 to 74 years old, who have smoked 1 pack per day for 30 years or 2 packs a day for 15 years, and whose last cigarette was smoked less than 15 years ago.

The recommended first step in lung cancer screening is low-dose computed tomography (CT) scan. X-ray may still be used in some places, but CT scans are much better at detecting developing cancer tumors and provide the best benefit towards cancer survival. Any mass identified for biopsy will then be analyzed by a pathologist for particular proteins.

If cancer is confirmed, the doctor can begin treatment, either through surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or a combination of these treatment approaches.


ADVANCES IN LUNG CANCER TREATMENT

But these days, the pathologist can do much more than just say whether it is cancer. The pathologist can actually describe the specific characteristics of the cancer cells to allow doctors to customize treatment even more.

By identifying whether this particular lung cancer comes with a certain gene mutation or a specific protein proliferation, trailblazing cancer treatments such as targeted immunotherapy become possible. These treatments drastically increase the patient’s chance of going into remission with fewer adverse events than, say, a standard chemotherapy regimen.

Targeted therapies are also available for patients with mutated EGFR or ALK genes.

An example of medication used for targeted immunotherapy is pembrolizumab which is used as first-line treatment for late-stage non–small-cell lung cancer that has a protein called PD-L1 (programmed death ligand) and no abnormal EGFR (epidermal growth factor receptor) or ALK (anaplastic lymphoma kinase) genes.

“In order to benefit from the innovation of immunotherapy and other targeted therapies particularly for certain types of advanced lung cancer, it is important that it is administered as early as possible upon the onset of the disease,” explained Dr. de Dios. “That is why we are particularly urging people to get screened right away. This is the best weapon to protect ourselves from the burden of the disease at its late stages.”

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