For the first time in decades, survival rates have improved in patients with 1 of 2 main types of lung cancer: extensive-stage small cell lung cancer (ES-SCLC). The rare subtype, constituting only 10 to 15 percent of lung cancer cases, has survival rates of 1 to 3 percent.
The treatment responsible for increasing those survival rates, according to a Medscape study, is a combination of chemotherapy and immunotherapy – the latter an alternative treatment already used to treat the more common non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). In cases of ES-SCLC, immunotherapy increased survival from 10 months to 12 months and reduced deaths by 30 percent.
This remarkable result marks what scientists believe to be a “new standard” of ES-SCLC treatment. Yet as quickly as we make progress with lung cancer treatment, death rates from other lung diseases continue to soar. This month, Healthy Lung Month, is here to remind us that we must fight harder for healthier lungs.
What Is Healthy Lung Month and Why Participate?
Healthy Lung Month is a national campaign held every October to emphasize the importance of lung health and prevalence of lung disease, which affects a staggering number of Americans.
You only have to look at the most common lung diseases to understand the sheer weight of the issue. Nearly 16 million people have been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a group of diseases including chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S., kills more than 150,000 Americans a year. One in 3 Americans lives with asthma.
But rarer diseases, whose dangers few people appreciate, are important to highlight, too. Lung diseases caused by exposure to asbestos, for example, only recently gained public attention. Asbestos-related diseases are difficult to diagnose and even more difficult to treat. Yet they still kill 40,000 Americans every year.
Sadly, many lung diseases are incurable. The good (but little-known) news is that some can be prevented. The main objective of Healthy Lung Month is to raise awareness of the risk factors and ways to avoid them.
How to Protect Your Lungs
In some cases, lung diseases are triggered by cigarette smoke, air pollution, allergens (particularly prevalent this time of year), and exposure to harmful pollutants.
The prevailing misconception is that these pollutants live outdoors. Lung health experts warn that indoor pollutants not only exist but can be at least as harmful. Workplaces, industrial sites, and even our homes pose risks for exposure to lung irritants – lead, dust, smoke, radon, cleaning agents, and asbestos-containing building materials only a few among them.
The American Lung Association (ALA) urges us to become more aware of air pollution sources so that we know where and when to minimize exposure. We can then protect our lungs by, for example:
- Avoiding walking or exercising along streets with busy traffic. Experts say walking even a block away can minimize exposure to vehicle emissions.
- Wearing a respirator when using or working with products that contain dangerous chemicals.
- Keeping air conditioner filters clean.
- Avoiding smoking, which causes chronic lung inflammation and leads to lung cancer and COPD. If you smoke, you can get help from the ALA or CMS.
- Seeing your doctor regularly. Check-ups are especially important for lung diseases because they often go undetected until they’re serious. Mesothelioma symptoms can take decades to appear. Millions of people living with COPD have not yet been diagnosed.
What If It’s Too Late?
As ALA says, it’s never too late to benefit from quitting smoking. The same goes for all preventative measures.
But what about the millions of Americans already suffering from lung disease? Here we arrive at another key objective of Healthy Lung Month: to educate patients about the resources available to them, whether treatment or compensation.
This is the area where we’ve made the most progress. Rare diseases like mesothelioma have also benefited from immunotherapy. People with mesothelioma and other occupational diseases can take advantage of an increasing number of resources to help pay for treatment.
But they are still dying.
This Healthy Lung Month, besides protecting your own lungs, think of someone you know who suffers from a lung disease. What help might be available to them?