Today, August 1, marks World Lung Cancer Day, which aims to raise awareness not only of the devastating effects of the disease, but also of the hope provided to patients through advances in treatments we’ve made in previous years.
The impact of lung cancer is vast. Globally, lung cancer causes more deaths each year than breast, colon and prostate cancers combined, and it is estimated that lung cancer accounts for nearly one in five cancer deaths across the world.
In the United States, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for both men and women, and it is estimated that 154,000 people will die from the disease in 2018. That equates to 422 people every day. Currently, the five-year relative survival rate for lung cancer is 18 percent (15 percent for men and 21 percent for women).
Lung cancer continues to be an unmet need; however, a rapid pace of scientific advances has ushered in a new era of medicine for cancer patients over the last decade. With a greater understanding of the underlying biological mechanisms that lead to cancer cell growth, researchers are now exploring game-changing methods and technologies to fight off this disease.
America’s biopharmaceutical researchers are working to develop more effective and better tolerated treatments for lung cancer patients every day. Research into the role of the body’s immune system in fighting cancer has yielded some of the most exciting advances, resulting in a new wave of immunotherapies that specifically target cancers. In effect, doctors can now enable a patient’s own immune system to fight cancer similarly to the way it fights disease-causing viruses and bacteria, with the promise of lasting results.
Take Matt Hiznay. At 24 years old, despite being a nonsmoker, Matt was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer, a condition with a five-year survival rate of just one percent. During his treatment, Matt discovered he had a specific gene mutation which made him eligible to access a two-week-old immunotherapy medicine released in a phase I clinical trial. Through a progressive cancer treatment (with virtually no side effects), Matt has successfully put his cancer into remission: Currently at the age of 29, Matt is 100 percent disease-free.
Matt’s story isn’t alone. According to the American Cancer Society, the lung cancer death rate has declined by 45 percent since 1990 in men and by 19 percent since 2002 in women, with the pace of decline quickening over the past decade; from 2011 to 2015, the rate decreased by 3.8 percent per year in men and by 2.3 percent per year in women.
Additionally, right now there are more than 1,100 medicines in development for the treatment of cancer, and 132 of those are designed to treat lung cancer specifically. Nearly 300 of these medicines in development are potential immunotherapy treatments.
We still have progress to make, but this World Lung Cancer Day, thanks to the decades of hard work of biopharmaceutical researchers across the country, the future has never looked brighter for lung cancer patients and their families.