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Tennessean: Stigma, Lack of Money Hurt Lung Cancer Fight

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Comment: Carole sent this interesting article to me this morning. Thank you, Carole.

http://www.tennessean.com/apps/pbcs.dll ... /804090458


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VU research could produce blood test to detect top killer


Staff Writer

In 1971, lung cancer was the leading cancer killer, with about only about 15 percent of its victims alive after five years. In 2008, that's still true.

Lung cancer kills more people than breast cancer, prostate cancer, kidney cancer, colon cancer, liver cancer and skin cancer combined. A lack of funding over the years has hampered research, advocates say.

One reason is that lung cancer is often associated with smoking, and victims are blamed for their disease, but ex-smokers and nonsmokers now make up more than half of all new lung cancer cases.

"The idea that lung cancer patients don't deserve support is incredibly unfair since cigarettes are not only legal but highly addictive, and it's especially unfair to the nearly 20,000 people per year who take care of themselves, never smoke and get lung cancer anyway," said Dr. David Carbone, professor of medicine and cancer biology at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center.

Finding a way to detect lung cancer early is critical to improving survival rates. Researchers at Vanderbilt are working on developing a blood test that would find the cancer before symptoms appear.

When cancer cells develop in the body, they sometimes shed proteins that show up in the blood, urine or tissue. Vanderbilt researchers are working to identify proteins that are unique to lung cancer.

Carbone said there is currently no good way of detecting lung cancer early. X-rays are ineffective and CT scans detect nodules in 70 percent of people.

Without removing part of the lung there's no way to know whether those nodules are cancerous.

If lung cancer is detected early, patients have a 70 percent survival rate at five years. So, though a blood test to identify lung cancer early is years away, its impact would be enormous.

"There are tens of millions of ex-smokers for which there is no early detection," Carbone said.

Misperceptions common

Kristen White thought lung cancer was a disease for old chain smokers.

White, 47, of Russellville, Ky., had been biking 10 miles several times a week when she was diagnosed with the disease. She said she smoked socially a few times a year.

"I was thinking, why me? I didn't do that. Look at all these people who smoke like chimneys. They're healthy," she said.

White learned that her perception is a common one. One of the first questions she's asked after she tells people she has lung cancer is, "How much did you smoke?"

Carbone's patients have told him similar stories.

"Nobody asks heart attack patients how much ice cream they ate," he said. "They don't tell colon cancer patients that they should have eaten more fiber."

Kay Cofrancesco of the Lung Cancer Alliance, a Washington, D.C.-based support and advocacy group, said the stigma surrounding lung cancer ultimately hampers research funding.

"The mentality is: 'You smoked. You deserve lung cancer,' " Cofrancesco said. "The stigma prevents people from speaking out, so you don't have the awareness piece."

Carbone said about 40 percent of new lung cancer cases occur among people who quit smoking three or more years ago. And almost 15 percent of new cases are people who never smoked.

"More people die of lung cancer who have never touched a cigarette in their life than die of ovarian cancer," he said.

Cofrancesco said another common misconception is that the lungs will repair the damage done by smoking within 10 years.

That's not true, according to Dr. Pierre Massion, an associate professor of medicine and cancer biology at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center.

"The risk of cancer never decreases for a smoker to the point of someone who never smoked," Massion said.

Still, Massion said there is tremendous benefit to quitting. Just how much quitting lessens the chance of developing lung cancer depends on factors such as how long and how much a person smoked, he said.

Protein study 'promising'

Because there is no good way to detect the disease early on, lung cancer patients usually aren't diagnosed until the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Only 25 percent of patients are candidates for surgery.

But studies at Vanderbilt could one day change those statistics.

In their effort to create a blood test, researchers at Vanderbilt and the University of Pittsburgh compared the blood of about 300 people. About half had lung cancer and the other half were considered to be at high risk for lung cancer.

Massion said the research has identified seven proteins that may be unique among patients with lung cancer.

"It's very promising," Massion said. "We'll need to conduct further studies to verify whether the protein profile is helpful in the diagnosis of lung cancer."

But doing lung cancer research has gotten tougher, Carbone said. Grant money from the National Cancer Institute will be slashed by $400,000 a year for the next five years. Vanderbilt's $2.7 million annual grant was trimmed to $2.5 million two years ago and $2.3 million last year.

"It caused us to eliminate an entire research project," Carbone said.

Doctor, patient are hopeful

Lung cancer researchers across the country face similar struggles. For every lung cancer death, $1,829 is spent on research by the National Cancer Institute, the Department of Defense and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That compares with $5,216 per death for colon cancer, $14,369 for prostate cancer and $23,474 for breast cancer, according to the Lung Cancer Alliance.

Lung cancer has fewer survivors raising awareness, fewer nonprofit organizations raising money and few treatment breakthroughs that would buoy research funding, Carbone said.

The downturn in the economy is making it even tougher, he added.

Yet despite the difficulties, Carbone is hopeful about progress that researchers are making.

"I suspect in the next five or 10 years we'll have a blood test" for early detection, he said.

Despite the odds, Kristen White is also hopeful. Medicine is keeping her cancer from growing. She wants to survive to see her daughter, a high school senior, graduate from college.

"I hope in years to come, lung cancer will get the recognition of other cancers, and a cure will be found."

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(Tennessean.com, Source: Vanderbuilt University Research, By Claudia Pinto, Staff Writer, April 9, 2008)


The information contained in these articles may or may not be in agreement with my own opinions. They are not posted as medical advice of any kind.

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Hey daanie,

I saw Dr. Sandler at Vandy... You're just a hop, skip and a jump from me. My sister has relocated to Middlesboro KY. She is a nurse admin. there. She said, she absolutely looooovvvveeeessss it.

So glad you are in such a good place!!

God bless!!


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Yes, Dannnie, I agree with you that someday, surely, through sites such as this one, there will be an "awakening."

Lung cancer research and funding is deserving of our attention and concern - rather than treated as a stigma by so many of the public.

It does seem to be moving in that direction, especially when the majority of those diagnosed today are a combination of former or never smokers.


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