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Terrazzano the 'voice of lung cancer'

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Terrazzano the 'voice of lung cancer'



Lung cancer kills more women every year than any other cancer. In 2007, that will mean an estimated 72,000 deaths.

One in five of them has never smoked, according to a new study by Stanford University scientists. Still, the continued stigma about lung cancer -- the belief that people are somehow to blame because of the link to tobacco and smoking -- has allowed federal research dollars to lag behind other cancers, said Susan Mantel, executive director of the Manhattan-based Joan's Legacy. And the fact that most people are diagnosed in later stages, she said, means lung cancer patients die sooner and their voices are heard less often.

Lauren Terrazzano made her voice heard. Her column, Life, With Cancer, tackled issues of living with the disease, from stingy research funding to how to laugh in the face of pain.

"The lung cancer community is really tracking her story," Mantel said Monday. "Not just because she is writing about lung cancer, but she is writing about patients and about bridging the gap between cancers. I get e-mails from people all the time. It makes a tremendous difference."

"She has given a voice to lung cancer," said Mantel, whose organization honored Terrazzano for her work.

Regina Vidaver, head of the National Lung Cancer Partnership in Madison, Wis., agreed. "It helps immensely. This is a disease that still has a lot of stigma attached to it." Indeed, if 15 percent of 200,000 men and women who develop lung cancer every year have no history of smoking, and 50 percent had a past history but had given up smoking years or decades earlier, "that is a lot of people," Vidaver said. Regardless of someone's smoking habits or history, she said, "Nobody deserves cancer."

What's more, a form of lung cancer known as Bronchioloalveolar Carcinoma (BAC) whose incidence is rising worldwide, has no link to smoking, said Dr. Rob McKenna, head of thoracic surgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Women seem to be at increased risk, for unknown reasons, McKenna said. About 20 percent of his patients have BAC.

When caught early, most lung cancers respond to available treatments. Still, 60 percent of lung cancer patients die within the first 18 months of the illness. McKenna and others who treat it are trying to spread the word on the importance of screening by diagnostic technique equivalent to mammography for breast cancer.

Today, 80 percent of lung cancer patients are diagnosed in the later stages, McKenna said. Earlier screening, whether a chest X-ray or a CAT scan of the lungs, could, according to one study by Weill Cornell Medical Center doctors, reverse that so that 80 percent of cases are diagnosed in earlier, more treatable stages. "We would like to see screening for lung cancer," McKenna said, though his colleagues are embroiled in controversy over whether screening could improve survival rates.

The increase of lung cancer in women, some experts say, is parallel to the steady increase in men that was identified decades ago, and has now declined. Women started smoking later than men, and studies show that men stopped smoking sooner -- factors that could account for the increase in women.

But that is just part of the story. The Stanford University study, led by Dr. Heather Wakelee, suggests that almost twice as many female lung cancer patients have never smoked, "and we need more research to figure out what is going on," said Wakelee.

For more information on lung cancer:

Joan's Legacy

National Lung Cancer Partnership

National Cancer Institute

American Lung Association

National Cancer Institute Smoking Quitline

Lung Cancer Online, founded by Karen Parles, a Long Island woman diagnosed with lung cancer.

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