Entries in Lung Cancer (22)


Experimental Drug Trains Immune System to Shrink Tumors

John Foxx/Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- An experimental cancer drug successfully shrank tumors in patients with different kinds of cancer, including typically hard-to-treat lung cancers, according to a new study. Oncologists said the research was encouraging, but more study was needed to know whether the drug would prolong life for cancer patients.

The study, led by Dr. Suzanne Topalian, was presented today at the Super Bowl of cancer professionals, a meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, and published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

In a small, early phase study, researchers used a drug targeting a portion of the body's immune system, a pathway called PD-1, which usually works to stop the body from fighting cancerous tumors. By shutting down the pathway, the drug stokes the body's immune system to fight tumor cells.

Researchers gave the drug to nearly 240 patients with advanced melanoma, colorectal, prostate, kidney and lung cancers. All the patients had tried up to five other treatments, which failed. After up to two years on the drug, tumors shrank in 26 of 94 patients with melanoma, nine of 33 patients with kidney cancer and 14 of 76 patients with lung cancer.

The drug was not without side effects. About 14 percent of patients in the trial reported conditions such as skin rashes, diarrhea or breathing problems.

Alan Kravitz, 70, took the drug for two years to treat his melanoma, which had been diagnosed in the spring of 2007. He said the drug gave him a sunburn that lasted for two months and some mild fatigue. But the tumors that had spread to his lungs were gone.

"My first CT scans showed that the tumors in my lungs basically disappeared," he said. "It enabled my own immune system to kill the tumors. Quite an amazing drug."

Cancer specialists said the fact that the drug caused tumors to shrink, rather than simply to stop growing, is an important measure of success.

"Traditionally in cancer medicine, a tumor that shrinks is an indication that you're killing the cancer," said Dr. Jay Brooks, chairman of hematology and oncology at Ochsner Health System in Baton Rouge, La.

To see that kind of success against several different kinds of cancer, particularly against melanoma, kidney and lung cancers, which are notoriously unresponsive to many of the usual treatments doctors use to thwart them, was also unusual.

David Grobin, 62, a retired Baltimore police officer, underwent nearly three years of unsuccessful chemotherapy and radiation for his lung cancer before taking the drug in February 2011. Now, he said his tumors hadn't totally disappeared, but they are much smaller than they were.

"How lucky can a person be? This is better than anything that I have had before," Grobin said.

"To see this kind of response in cancers that are so difficult to treat is very encouraging," said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society.

The study did not show whether patients lived longer after taking the drug, but experts said early phases of drug trials typically aren't designed to determine improvements in survival. As scientists study the drug in larger numbers of patients for longer periods of time, the drug's success in prolonging life for cancer patients will become clearer.

Lichtenfeld also noted that early trials of drugs are intended to show whether a drug is safe, and don't usually find impressive numbers of patients who respond to the drug. To see those numbers emerging early in drug trials is encouraging, he said.

The difference in the drug's early success may lie in the approach it takes in delivering targeted cancer therapy. Cancer researchers have been chasing more targeted ways to deliver cancer treatments for decades now, in search of a method more refined than the "slash, burn and poison" approaches available with traditional surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Usually, targeted therapies hone in on a particular part of the cancer itself – a particular kind of cell or a process vital to a tumor's survival.

The current drug is a different because it targets the body's own immune system, training it to recognize tumor cells as foreign, malicious agents.

"In spite of everything we've done so far with cancer drugs, chemotherapy and the rest, what could be more powerful than having the body's own immune system attack the cancer?" said Dr. Roy Herbst, chief of medical oncology at Yale Cancer Center.

Still, doctors remain cautiously optimistic about the drug's early promise.

"In all new studies, there's usually a lot of optimism and hope, but this should all be tempered with a dose of realism," Brooks said. "What's initially reported may not necessarily pan out with time."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Major Cancer Groups Recommend CT Scans for Lung Cancer

Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- For the first time, several top cancer organizations are recommending that smokers and former smokers ages 55 to 74 years who have smoked at least one pack of cigarettes a day for at least 30 years get an annual low-dose CT (LDCT)—a three dimensional X-ray—to look for lung cancer.

The recommendations, put forth as a collaborative effort by the American Cancer Society, American College of Chest Physicians, American Society of Clinical Oncology, and National Comprehensive Cancer Network, were released Sunday morning. They appear in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Each year, more Americans die from lung cancer than from breast, colon, and prostate cancers combined. It has held its position for years as the second most common cancer for both sexes in the United States. Only prostate cancer is more common than lung cancer in men. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women.

If detected early enough, lung cancer can be treated and survival chances improved. Despite this, until now there had been no formal recommendations on screening tests for this deadly cancer.

“We now have an important and critical tool to screen for the most common cancer in America, and can reduce the mortality through this screening,” said Dr. John Deeken, assistant professor in the division of hematology/oncology at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

Still, the question of whether every person at high risk for lung cancer should get an annual low-dose CT scan is not so simple. Since the type of CT scan used exposes the patient to radiation, albeit a low-level dose, there is a small health risk posed by this screening.

If doctors detect a questionable cancerous mass through a CT scan, they may have to evaluate it further through a minor surgery called a biopsy. In this procedure, a doctor will take a sample of the tissue for further testing to determine if the mass really is a cancer. While some of these may be cancerous, there are always a certain number which are not—meaning that the detection and subsequent surgery may not have been technically necessary.

The new recommendation also begs the question of who will be paying for the test itself.

“The cost of LDCT is currently not covered as a standard test,” said Dr. Chao Huang, lung cancer specialist at the University of Kansas Cancer Center. “Therefore, it is difficult to recommend this test when patients may be burdened by the cost of this test year after year.”

“The key question is when will more insurance companies, and most importantly Medicare, start paying for these screening tests,” Deeken said.

And then there is the issue of how many Americans will fall under the guidelines—and whether the resources exist to screen all of them.

“We currently do not have the infrastructure to manage the potential number of patients that would qualify for screening,” Huang said.

These issues aside, one thing is clear: screening CTs have been shown to save lives. Dr. Keith Mortman, associate professor of clinical surgery at Georgetown University School of Medicine, explains that a major study in 2010 called the National Lung Screening Trial found a 20 percent reduction in lung cancer deaths in patients who were screened with low-dose CT scans as compared to those who got chest X-rays.

Dr. Herbert Kressel, a radiologist at Harvard Medical School, says that in light of this, the recommendation is a step in the right direction.

“Lung cancer is an important health problem with a poor prognosis when it is discovered at an advanced stage,” Kressel said. “This study is important in further highlighting the importance of low dose CT screening for patients at high risk for lung cancer.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Lung Cancer Screening Would Save Thousands of Lives at a Low Cost

Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Thousands of lives could be saved without breaking the bank if health insurers covered lung cancer screening, a new study found.  

When the topic of cancer screenings comes up, most think of breast, colon, cervical or prostate cancer. But lung cancer, despite being the leading cause of cancer deaths each year -- according to Medical News Today, is somehow left out. Unlike other cancer tests, the majority of insurance companies do not cover screening for lung cancer.

A low dose CT Scan is now an option for screening high risk patients for lung cancer, and a new study published this month in Health Affairs shows that these screenings are less costly and could save thousands of lives.
Researchers found that lung cancer screenings for men and women between the ages of 50-64 with a history of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for at least 30 years would cost about as much as a colonoscopy. And both are less than the mammograms and pap smears for detecting breast and cervical cancers.

Researchers said that annual lung cancer screenings would reduce the risk of mortality, saving an estimated 15,000 patients each year, at a relatively low cost.
Therefore, the study suggests insurance companies make coverage of valuable lung cancer screenings available to high risk tobacco smokers under 65.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Mass Lung Cancer Screening Starts in Scotland

Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Thousands of smokers in Scotland, which has one of the highest lung cancer rates in the world, will soon undergo blood tests that could identify early-stage lung cancer.  The trial project is part of the Scottish government’s Detect Cancer Early program.

The test determines the levels of certain antibodies in the blood, which may increase when lung cancer develops.  People with elevated antibody levels will be sent for a CT scan to determine whether they have cancer.

According to the Scottish government’s web site, around 10,000 smokers identified as being at higher risk for lung cancer will participate in the screening project.

There are nearly 5,000 people diagnosed with lung cancer in Scotland every year, twice the rate of the entire United Kingdom, said Scotland’s health secretary, Nicola Sturgeon.

“If the disease is diagnosed early patients have a 60 percent chance of survival, but if the cancer is well advanced the survival rate drops to just one percent,” Sturgeon said.

Officials say the goal of the Detect Cancer Early program is to increase the rate of early cancer detection by 25 percent.

Dr. Edgardo Santos, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Miami Sylvester Cancer Center said while it’s unclear whether the screening program will be successful, he applauds the Scottish government’s effort.

“We don’t currently have any standard blood screening for cancer.  There are a lot of things we do in terms of screening for lung cancer -- like getting images of the lungs to see if there’s cancer or using exhaled gas analysis -- but nothing has really been very efficacious so far,” he said.  “Lung cancer has a very high cancer mortality rate and screening has tremendous value, but it’s very difficult to get effective tests developed.”

Blood testing will start later this year and continue over the next four years across Scotland.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


New Gene Test Could Spy Which Lung Cancer Will Recur

Hemera/Thinkstock(SAN FRANCISCO) -- In 2011, 220,000 Americans were diagnosed with lung cancer.  Eighty percent of those Americans had a form of the disease known as non-small cell lung cancer.

In its early stages, doctors usually decide to remove the tumor surgically.  But as Dr. Edward Kim, chief of head and neck medical oncology at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, explained, what to do next is often a difficult question to answer.

"Patients with this early stage of lung cancer pose a real dilemma for clinicians," he said in an email to ABC News.  "The current literature is less than definitive when deciding between the benefit of the chemotherapy against the risk of chemotherapy side effects for the patient."

The reason the early stage of this kind of lung cancer is so tricky to treat is because about 50 percent of people with it will see it return after surgery.  That means that half of all patients with it might have been helped with chemotherapy, while the other half would have experienced no benefit from chemo, but considerable side effects and cost. So, for years, the question has been, "How can we tell these patients apart?"

Dr. David Jablons, chief of thoracic surgery at the University of California at San Francisco, believes he has found the answer.

In a study published in the journal Lancet on Thursday, Jablons, in collaboration with a large consortium in China, described a new genetic test to determine which of the surgically removed lung cancers will return.

"This is the largest molecular study done on lung cancer so far, and the results are really encouraging for lung cancer patients," Jablons says.

Developed by Pinpoint Genomics, the gene test was used to analyze lung cancer cells of more than 1,500 patients in the United States and China. Researchers examined 14 specific genes that are thought to make cancer more likely to return.  They then compared the results to see which patients actually had a recurrence and which patients did not.

Not only were they able to predict which patients had a return of their lung cancer, they found that this genetic test outperformed traditional methods used to predict the return of this cancer, opening the door to the possibility that the test will make it possible to decide who should get chemotherapy and who should not.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Could Stress Have Spurred Joe Paterno’s Rapid Demise?

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Joe Paterno once said he’d die without football in his life. Now, only 74 days after he was fired as head football coach at Penn State University, where the beloved coach stood on the field for 62 seasons, Paterno has died of complications from lung cancer.  Some experts say the stress brought on by the child sex allegations against Jerry Sandusky, Paterno’s longtime assistant at Penn, last November could have sped up Paterno’s demise.

“I believe stress can have a profound effect on one’s overall health and outcomes,” said Dr. Edward Kim, associate professor of thoracic head and neck oncology at MD Anderson Cancer Center. “My personal observations have been that those patients who have positive attitudes and understand their disease tend to do better overall.”

When the Penn State child sex scandal in which Sandusky was accused of 40 counts of child molestation broke two months ago, many said Paterno could and should have done more to protect the boys whom Sandusky allegedly attacked. After the incident hit headlines in November, Paterno said he was “absolutely devastated” by the allegations against Sandusky.

“Mr. Paterno seemed to have a very grounded attitude about life,” said Kim. “He was very loyal to football, Penn State and to himself. My thoughts are that once football ended, he felt a sense of conclusion to his life, and this certainly could have contributed to his overall condition. I have enormous respect for people who can delineate these items with practicality and dignity.”

Nevertheless, Paterno’s health was declining and lung cancer can be a ferocious disease.  The harsh side effects of chemotherapy and radiation make it difficult to treat cancer patients over the age of 80, said experts. While age alone is not used to make cancer treatment decisions, elderly people are more likely to suffer from chronic illnesses that may make it difficult to tolerate the aggressive treatments.

“Even if Joe Paterno’s will to live was not damaged by the scandal, the immense stress from the chaos in his life would have certainly weakened him in his fight against cancer,” said Dr. Albert Levy, assistant professor of medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. “Chemotherapy is a harsh treatment method on its own. On an elderly 85-year-old person and someone debilitated emotionally, it would have an even greater impact on his prognosis.”

Paterno’s family announced that the former coach died of metastatic small cell carcinoma of the lung. Relatives decided to withdraw life support Sunday.

“Lung cancer is a devastating disease, and it is my hope that age of patients becomes less important,” said Kim. “Through continued research and clinical trials, we hope to identity specific characteristics about individual patients in order to give them the best most effective therapy.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Nonsmokers at Risk of Lung Cancer, Experts Say

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- You don't have to smoke to get lung cancer, according to experts.

HealthDay reports that one-fifth of lung cancer cases occur in nonsmokers. Experts say that over 32,000 Americans who don’t smoke will die from lung cancer each year. The death toll for breast cancer reaches 40,000 per year, while prostate cancer affects nearly 32,000.

"We say, 'If you have a lung, you can get lung cancer,'" said Linda Wenger, executive director of a nonprofit advocacy group Uniting Against Lung Cancer.

According to Wenger, women outnumber men two-to-one among those affected with lung cancer who do not have any history of smoking.

Lung Cancer Research Foundation experts are unsure of the cause of the disparity, but early research reveals that estrogen may be linked to the prevalence of tumors in women.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Joe Paterno's 'Treatable' Lung Cancer: What It Means

Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The family of former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno says the lung cancer with which he has been diagnosed is a "treatable form" -- though statistics suggest that even in the best of circumstances, the disease poses a serious threat.

"Last weekend my father was diagnosed with a treatable form of lung cancer during a follow-up visit for a bronchial illness," Paterno's son Scott said in a statement issued Friday. "He is currently undergoing treatment and his doctors are optimistic that he will make a full recovery."

Last week, Penn State's board of trustees fired Paterno, the winningest coach in the history of NCAA Division 1 football, in the wake of a sexual abuse scandal surrounding his defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky. Paterno, considered a legend by many tied to the school, has been embroiled in the scandal based on suggestions that he knew of Sandusky's alleged behavior and failed to do what was necessary to properly report it.

The suggestion that Paterno's cancer is treatable, if true, suggests that it was caught in its early stages before it had a chance to spread. According to statistics from the National Cancer Institute, 52.5 percent of patients whose lung cancer is detected before it has spread are alive five years after it is found.

But only 15 percent of patients are lucky enough to have their cancer detected this early -- and the numbers drop precipitously from there. For the 22 percent of patients whose cancer is only detected after it has spread to the lymph nodes, the chance of being alive five years later is 24.3 percent. And for the 56 percent whose cancer has metastasized, the five-year survival rate is only 3.6 percent.

The upshot: The cancer is far more likely to be in a treatable form for less than four in 10 patients -- and even then, it can be an uphill battle.

At least 20 of the nation's top medical centers are trying to beat this curve by setting up lung cancer screening programs using computerized tomography, or CT. Through these programs, patients considered to be at high risk of lung cancer can be screened, hopefully allowing doctors to detect their disease as early as possible, before it has a chance to spread.

The approach just might work, at least according to research released in June and published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The results of the seven-year study offer the first solid evidence that screening with CT scans could reduce lung cancer deaths by as much as 20 percent in high-risk groups, such as heavy smokers older than 55.

Another important factor in the survivability of lung cancer is whether the cancer is classified as "small cell" or "non-small cell." Of these, small cell is the more aggressive. According to NCI data, patients who are diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer tend to have a better chance of survival, at least when the cancer is caught in its earlier stages. In this area, the numbers are slightly more forgiving: Only about 15 percent of the estimated 221,130 Americans who will be diagnosed with lung cancer this year will have the small cell variety, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Routine Chest X-Rays Don’t Cut Lung Cancer Death, Study Finds

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(HONOLULU, Hawaii) -- Annual chest X-rays may not prevent lung cancer deaths, according to new findings published in JAMA and presented Wednesday at the annual meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians.

The study was part of the larger Prostate, Lung and Colorectal Cancer Screening Trial, which included more than 150,000 participants ages 55 to 74.  Researchers found that smokers and non-smokers who were given annual chest X-rays for as long as four years were just as likely to die from lung cancer as those who were not screened.

During the 13-year period of the study, 1,696 patients who underwent annual chest X-rays developed lung cancer, compared to 1,620 patients who developed lung cancer but did not get chest X-rays.

An estimated 220,000 people nationwide have lung cancer, and more than half that number will die from the disease, according to the American Cancer Society. It is considered the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S.  

A chest X-ray is one of a few screening options for lung cancer and, for years, many medical experts recommended X-ray screenings for both smokers and non-smokers.

In 2004, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force concluded that there was no evidence to support any type of routine lung cancer screening in people without symptoms of the disease.

The latest findings come on the heels of another large trial, called the National Lung Screening Trial, which showed the computed tomography (CT) scans were slightly better at preventing lung cancer death compared to X-rays.

“All prior studies assessing chest X-rays as a screening maneuver for lung cancer were negative, but some folks had remained unconvinced,” said Dr. Robert Mayer, vice chairman for academic affairs at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. “Hopefully, this study will end the discussion.”

This study begs research into whether routine CT scans, another screening method, can prevent death in those who may show symptoms, compared to not getting screened, Dr. Harold Sox, a professor in the department of medicine at the Dartmouth Institute, wrote in an accompanying editorial.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Cancer Vaccine Extends Survival in Lung Cancer Patients, Study Finds

Paul Tearle/Stockbyte/Thinkstock(STRASBOURG, France) -- Lung cancer is the number-one cause of cancer deaths in the United States.
Now, a new study in the journal Lancet Oncology finds that a lung-cancer vaccine could be on the way.
Researchers at the Université de Strasbourg in Strasbourg, France, divided 148 lung cancer patients into two groups. One group got chemotherapy plus a new cancer vaccine called TG4010. The rest were given chemotherapy alone.
After six months, 43 percent of those who got both treatments had slower progression of their cancer, compared to 35 percent of those who had only chemotherapy. Overall, survival was similar in both groups.
The study found that the combination therapy worked better in patients who had normal levels of so-called "natural killer cells" that work to kill cancer cells and keep healthy cells alive.  
Another trial study is now underway.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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