Lung cancer patients’ hope increased with targeted therapies
According to the data of the Ministry of Health Cancer Department, approximately 30 thousand people are diagnosed with lung cancer every year in Turkey. Smoking alone is responsible for 87 of deaths due to lung cancer. The positive developments in the treatment of lung cancer, which is a very deadly type of cancer, in recent years are increasing the hope of patients more and more. However, experts warn; Even if treatment options increase, the best way to prevent lung cancer is to stay away from smoking. Making a statement on 17 November World Lung Cancer Day, President of the Academic Oncology Association Prof. Dr. Erdem Göker reminded that those who have lung cancer or smokers in his family are at a serious risk for this type of cancer.
According to official data, lung cancer, which is the most common in men and the fifth most common in women, is estimated to be about 30,000 new diagnoses each year, accounting for 21.8 percent of all cancers in men and 4.9 percent in women. Emphasizing that smoking alone is responsible for 30% of cancer deaths and 87% of deaths due to lung cancer, Prof. Dr. “Smart therapies, targeted therapies and immunotherapy give hope to cancer patients,” Göker said.
Lung cancer is the most deadly type of cancer
Stating that lung cancer is the most common type of cancer among all cancers and at the same time it kills the most, Prof. Dr. Erdem Göker said, “There are many types of lung cancer, but one of the two most common types is squamous cell lung cancer and the other is adeno cancer. These two cancers belong to what we define as non-small cell lung cancer. There is also a group called small cell lung cancer, but this type is seen in less than 20% of all lung cancers. In other words, we can say that 80% of lung cancer cases are non-small cell lung cancer.”
Smoking is the most important cause of lung cancer
Emphasizing that although there are many causes of lung cancer, the most important of them is smoking. Dr. Erdem Göker said: “With smoking, some cellular changes occur in the bronchial tissue and air sacs of the lung. As these changes become continuous with smoking addiction, the risk of developing lung cancer increases as the amount of smoking increases and the duration of smoking increases.
Immunotherapy greatly increased success in lung cancer treatment
Lung cancer is more common in smokers. This rate is higher in those who start smoking at a young age and who smoke for a long time and heavily. Although air pollution and hormonal factors are also effective in lung cancer, the risk created by them is extremely low compared to smoking. The most typical symptom of lung cancer is cough.”
The role of smart drugs in the treatment of lung cancer is increasing
Underlining that smoking is a major factor in lung cancer, however, non-smokers can also get lung cancer. Dr. Göker summarized the progress achieved in treatment in recent years as follows: “Lung cancer is an important disease and we must do our best to protect it. However, if we do get cancer despite everything, we should not lose hope because there is a cure for cancer.
The most advanced of these treatments is the way of diagnosing lung cancer molecularly and treating it with a smart drug. Cancer treatment, of course, is a difficult process, but in the last 5 years, we have started to understand lung cancer better. We learned the genetic background of lung cancer, and drugs developed in accordance with genetic mutations continue to offer a new perspective every day. We call these new drugs “smart drugs”.
These drugs only target the genetic defect that creates the tumor and therefore cause fewer side effects throughout the body, so patients can reach more successful treatment with fewer side effects. These smart drugs are extremely innocent when compared to chemotherapy and radiotherapy in terms of their side effects. In the patient diagnosed with lung cancer, of course, our primary choice is surgery, but we no longer have to continue with chemotherapy and radiotherapy in advanced lung cancer that cannot be operated. After performing genetic tests that allow us to understand the genetic mutation features in the tumor, we can evaluate the next generation of targeted therapy options.”
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The belief among the public that “the tumor is not worth a knife” blocks the way for new generation treatments
Underlining that in order to benefit from the next generation of smart treatments, genetic tests to determine the gene mutation in the tumor should be carried out. Dr. Göker said: “Adequate tumor tissue should be taken from the patient in the form of biopsy for genetic tests to be performed. It should be clearly stated that taking a biopsy from the tumor does not have a worsening effect on the course of the disease.
The perception that ‘a knife is not worth the tumor’ among the public is absolutely wrong. Consciously performed biopsies and subsequent genetic tests can create very positive effects in the course of treatment by enabling smart treatments. That’s why they should insist on these tests being done. And doctors will definitely tell patients this. We now have a few main drugs that we can use, and a wide variety of drugs that are still under development, according to the results of these tests, which can be done in most large hospitals, and we achieve much greater success with these drugs than we have achieved with chemotherapy and radiotherapy. While there was a 9-10 month life expectancy in advanced lung cancer in the past, this period has been extended by more than 2 times with smart drugs.”
Lung cancer patients are more hopeful now
Stating that lung cancer has evolved from an extremely hopeless disease to a treatable disease, Prof. Dr. Göker said the following about the latest developments: “We call the treatment determined according to the mutation characteristics found as a result of DNA analyzes on the tumor causing lung cancer, targeted therapy. Smart drugs and targeted therapies enable us to better recognize the individual and genetic characteristics of lung cancer patients and to develop different treatments for each patient.
Personalized treatment with genetic testing in lung cancer
On the other hand, developments in the field of immunotherapy, which enables the immune system to fight cancer, also enable us to achieve significant success. We are now able to achieve significant results thanks to these treatments, even in cases of advanced stage cancer that has spread to the liver and bone. These promising developments lie in our better understanding of lung cancer, the ability to apply genetic and molecular tests, and the use of different drugs for each patient as a result of these tests.
Immunotherapy, not a “cancer vaccine”
Emphasizing that the term “cancer vaccine”, which has spread from ear to ear in recent days, is wrong. Dr. Göker said: “Cancer vaccine is a misuse. Because what we call a vaccine should be for protection. What is known as a cancer vaccine is a treatment model that strengthens our immune system and enables it to fight against cancer. The correct name for these is immunotherapy.
In this treatment model, an antigen is given to the patient, his immune system is activated and the system itself is enabled to fight cancer. If we talk about lung cancer, we have a great chance to eradicate the disease with surgical treatment, chemotherapy, rational drugs beyond radiotherapy and immunotherapies. In the past, there was an understanding of ‘cancer treatment = chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy’, but now the situation has changed.”
Smokers have a high risk of lung cancer
“Although we cannot say that people who have never smoked have a risk of developing lung cancer, this risk is very low compared to smokers,” said Prof. Dr. Göker continued: “In addition, people we think do not smoke may have been exposed to passive smoking for a long time because of their relatives. Smokers also face other serious risks such as heart disease, bladder cancer, heart attack. So if a cigarette addict doesn’t die from such other causes and lives a long enough life, their chances of eventually getting lung cancer are almost 100%.
Lung cancer is not a type of cancer that is directly inherited, such as breast cancer or bowel cancer, but if there is a family member with lung cancer while smoking, the risk of lung cancer for other smokers in the family is higher than for regular cigarette addicts. For this reason, children of cigarette addicted parents with lung cancer should stop smoking immediately if they smoke. Otherwise, let’s say if their parents had smoking-related lung cancer at age 70, children should be prepared for lung cancer at age 45-50.”
Awareness campaigns should focus on “never starting smoking”
prof. Dr. Göker said: “Smoking is seen intensely in our country because there is a lot of smoking. While this rate tended to decrease with anti-smoking campaigns, unfortunately, there was both a decrease and a blockage in the campaigns. The main purpose of these campaigns was that non-smokers should never start smoking, but rather smokers should quit. Smoking rates have started to rise among the younger generation. On the other hand, the Cancer Department is doing good work, but more emphasis should be placed on campaigns focused on not starting smoking at all.”