Although lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States for both men and women—nearly 157,000 deaths from lung cancer occurred in 2011, according to the American Cancer Society—survey results from the Lung Cancer Research Foundation (LCRF) show that 60% of Americans are unaware of the high rate of deaths due to the disease. In fact, nearly a quarter of respondents said that breast cancer was the leading cause of cancer death, followed by 15% who believe that colon cancer causes the most fatalities. In addition, funding for lung cancer research lags far behind federal research dollars for breast cancer—just 5% and 12.1%, respectively, of the NCI’s budget.
Reasons for Lag in Funding
One possible reason for the huge discrepancy in federal spending is that understanding the molecular pathogenesis of the disease has only developed over the past decade, limiting research opportunities, says James B. Dougherty, MD, Medical and Scientific Advisor to the LCRF. “Until the past 10 years, I’m not sure the biology and the ability to ask the questions with relevant research opportunities really gained the momentum of where it is today,” says Dr. Dougherty.
Another reason Dr. Dougherty cites for limited research funding is the amount of private donations patients with lung cancer are able to generate compared with other cancer survivors. “I think lung cancer resources lag behind other types of cancer like breast and prostate, in part, because patients with lung cancer get sick and stay sick and often don’t survive long enough to become self-advocates in the way that other cancer patients do,” says Dr. Dougherty.
With 5-year survival rates for patients with lung cancer at a dismal 15%, the LCRF is funding research focused on the genomic structure of lung cancer cells to determine ways to prevent lung cancer as well as to find the most effective treatments.
Genomic testing of lung cancer tumors is also starting to take place outside of the clinical trial setting as the test becomes more available to the general public. To encourage patients with lung cancer to undergo molecular testing so their physicians can learn whether there are identifiable genetic mutations and prescribe the most effective treatment, a number of lung cancer organizations and Pfizer Oncology have joined together to launch a patient education website called Lung Cancer Profiles (lungcancerprofiles.com).
Although molecular profiling on lung cancer tumors is not universally available yet, many large cancer institutions offer the test to patients. Not all insurance carriers, however, pay for the cost of the test. ■
When intermittent chest pains sent me to the emergency room nearly a decade ago, I worried that I was having some kind of cardiac event. The ER doctor wanted to make sure that I didn’t have a pulmonary embolism, so in addition to ordering a complete cardiac workup, she also ordered a chest x-ray to ...