More people die of lung cancer in the United States than from colon, breast, and prostate cancer combined, say physicians from Memorial Sloan-Kettering. Smoking is the single biggest risk factor for lung cancer, but exposure to asbestos, radiation, radon, and air pollution are also contributing factors.
Lung cancer is usually detected when it is already at an advanced stage, making it more difficult to treat. Thoracic surgeon Nabil Rizk describes the comprehensive program Memorial Sloan-Kettering has launched to identify early-stage lung cancers in current or formerly heavy smokers. The program is based on evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of screening with low-dose CT scans in improving survival.
Treatment of lung cancer depends on the type of tumor involved, and how advanced it is. When caught at an early stage, surgery is the most effective treatment option. Radiation therapy is also effective for people with early-stage tumors who cannot undergo surgery, says radiation oncologist Andreas Rimner. Radiation is usually combined with surgery or chemotherapy to treat more-advanced tumors, and may be used to reduce symptoms in people with cancer that has spread beyond the chest.
Medical oncologist Mark Kris, Chief of the Thoracic Oncology Service, says that precise information about the genetic characteristics of tumor cells has transformed the way doctors select and individualize the treatment approach for each patient, as well as work on developing new therapies.