November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Lung cancer is the second most common type of cancer in the Philippines after breast cancer, according to the Healthy Pilipinas website of the Department of Health.
Lung cancer begins in the lungs and may spread to lymph nodes or other organs in the body, such as the brain. Cancer from other organs may also spread to the lungs. Common symptoms of lung cancer include coughing that gets worse or doesn’t go away, chest pain, shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing up blood, feeling very tired all the time, and weight loss with no known cause.
Cigarette smoking is the number one risk factor for lung cancer. People who smoke cigarettes are 15 to 30 times more likely to get lung cancer or die from lung cancer than people who do not smoke, warns the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Even smoking a few cigarettes a day or smoking occasionally increases the risk of lung cancer. The more years a person smokes and the more cigarettes smoked each day, the higher the risk.
Secondhand smoke (smoke from other people’s cigarettes, pipes, or cigars) also causes lung cancer. Living in areas with higher levels of air pollution may increase the risk of getting lung cancer. Individuals whose parents, brothers or sisters, or children have had lung cancer are at risk of developing the disease. This could be true because they also smoke, they live or work in the same place where they are exposed to radon and other substances that can cause lung cancer, or because of an inherited genetic mutation, explains the CDC.
The most important thing you can do to prevent lung cancer is to not start smoking, or to quit if you smoke. Also, avoid secondhand smoke.
The only recommended screening test for lung cancer is low-dose CT scan (LDCT). The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends yearly lung cancer screening with LDCT for people who have a 20 pack-year or more smoking history; those who smoke now or have quit within the past 15 years; and those who are between 50 and 80 years old. A pack-year is smoking an average of one pack of cigarettes per day for one year. For example, a person could have a 20 pack-year history by smoking one pack a day for 20 years or two packs a day for 10 years.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) said that there are two main types of lung cancer. The first is non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). About 80% to 85% of lung cancers are NSCLC, and the main subtypes are adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and large cell carcinoma.
The second type is small cell lung cancer (SCLC). It is sometimes called oat cell cancer. This type of lung cancer tends to grow and spread faster than NSCLC, added the ACS. In most people with SCLC, the cancer has already spread beyond the lungs at the time it is diagnosed.
Lung cancer treatment includes surgery (operation to cut out the cancer), chemotherapy (using special medicines to shrink or kill the cancer), radiation therapy (using high-energy rays to kill the cancer), targeted therapy (using special medicines to block the growth and spread of cancer cells). Another option is immunotherapy which is the use of medicines to help a person’s own immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells more effectively.
In May 2022, the Union for International Cancer Control together with close to 30 partners, including the biopharmaceutical industry, launched the Access to Oncology Medicines (ATOM) Coalition. The coalition is a global partnership with a shared goal to increase access to quality-assured essential cancer medicines in low- and lower middle-income countries, as well as increase the capacity for high-quality diagnosis and treatment.
The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations noted that the level of precision and tailoring in new treatments is on the rise.
In order to treat a specific tumor, for example, a sample will be taken from the patient. It will then be profiled and then manufactured, effectively tailoring a treatment unique to that patient.
The era of personalized medicine has indeed began where a one-size-fits-all treatment is no longer the rule. It is a period that must be harnessed and supported by healthcare systems that put patients at the center of care.
Teodoro B. Padilla is the executive director of Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP). PHAP represents the biopharmaceutical medicines and vaccines industry in the country. Its members are in the forefront of research and development efforts for COVID-19 and other diseases that affect Filipinos.