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Specialized Lung Cancer Treatment Improves Outcomes

Q&A with Apar Kishor Ganti, MD, hematologist/oncologist specializing in lung, head and neck cancers.

Cancer Center
What is the prevalence of lung cancer in the U.S.?
Lung cancer is the second most common cancer seen in both men and women in the United States. It is the primary cause of cancer related deaths in the United States and worldwide, accounting for 29 percent of cancer deaths in men and 26 percent of cancer deaths in women.
What is the survival rate for lung cancer?
The proportion of patients with lung cancer surviving five years or greater is a dismal 15 percent. This statistic has not changed substantially in the past 30 years. One of the major causes of this dismal survival rate is that most patients are diagnosed when the tumor is quite advanced. Lung cancer caught in an early stage is curable with surgery, but unfortunately, only a minority of patients present at an early stage. Outcomes could improve dramatically if lung cancer could be detected during its early stages.
What detection tools are available to detect lung cancer in its earliest stages?

Most patients who have early stage lung cancer lack symptoms and are identified serendipitously on a scan performed for something completely unrelated. The fact is, we currently do not have any way to detect lung cancer in the early stages. The tests that we do have such as chest X-rays, sputum analysis and computerized axial tomography (CT) scans, are not reliable.

Multiple studies in the United States and abroad performed in the 1960s and 1970s have shown that screening for lung cancer with a chest X-ray and sputum studies actually resulted in increased mortality rather than increasing survival from lung cancer. There have been a number of advances in CT scan technology in the past few decades and a renewed interest in using CT scans to screen for lung cancer. A recent study sponsored by the National Cancer Institute showed that regular CT scans could decrease deaths from lung cancer. However, the details of this study are not available yet and use of CT scans to screen for lung cancer is currently not ready for primetime.

What are common symptoms of lung cancer?
Persistent coughs, chest pain, shortness of breath and recurring infections are common symptoms of lung cancer; however, these usually don’t develop until the tumor has advanced to stage III or IV.
What is the treatment of choice for lung cancer?
Surgery is usually the treatment of choice in early stage lung cancer. In more advanced stages, chemotherapy and radiation are the recommended treatment options. Current data indicate that the chance for long-term survival improves when the medical team involved is dedicated to lung cancer treatment. Nebraska Medicine is unique in the region in that it has the only team of surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, radiologists, pathologists and nurses dedicated to the treatment of lung cancer.