By Jun Nucum

Experts are still making tentative steps towards an effective COVID-19 cure. But the good news is Stage four lung cancer is no longer a death sentence.

Recently launched It’s Okay to Ask details other treatment options aside from chemotherapy.

This was revealed in a virtual panel event moderated by New York Assistant Professor, hematology/oncology fellow Elaine Shum, MD, New York Assistant Clinical Professor Songchuan Guo, MD, PhD, certified hematology and oncology specialist Kin Lam, MD, Chicago Associate Professor Young Kwang Chae, MD, MPH, MBA and chef/owner of Blue Dragon in Massachusetts Ming Tsai (who was inspired by his wife’s lung cancer diagnosis and treatment).

The “It’s Okay to Ask” campaign was launched to encourage patients and caregivers to proactively ask the right questions about their disease and treatment options.

The panelists no longer want people to feel afraid of scary diagnosis but realize the many advancements in  lung cancer treatment.

For one, Shum debunked the myths that the most common cancer-related cause of death in both men and women is only smoking (non-smokers are also at risk) and the belief that chemotherapy is the only option.

The American Cancer Society estimated 234,030 new cases of lung cancer and 154,050 deaths due to this form of cancer in the US in 2018. Since 1950, lung cancer mortality rates for US women have increased an estimated 600 percent attributed mainly to the increases in the number of women smokers who are estimated to be 12 times more likely to get cancer than those who don’t.

Recent studies show that most common lung cancer is Non-small Cell Lung Cancer (NSLC) which accounts for 85 percent of lung cancer and that genetic mutation is one of the biggest lung cancer trigger aside from smoking.

Shum advised to watch out for cough that doesn’t go away and gets worse after treatment and antibiotics, loss of appetite, weight loss and anything that seems out of the ordinary such as seizure, memory loss, vision changes, weakness, among others and to seek medical help.

She warned of “a fairly large mass growing in their lungs and patients who may not have any symptoms that would be found incidentally.”

“Lung cancer can manifest itself in many ways and sometimes it does not present itself at all so keep up to date with physical exams and seek medical care with anything that seems out of ordinary.”

Shum was quick to admit that the cost of oncology care has gone up with newer, improved medication and that the financial toxicity of treatment is something that cannot be ignored.

“But we don’t want patients to be stopped, prevented or not seek medical care because they think they cannot afford it or have financial trouble because of the treatment they will be having and might need,” Shum exhorted. “Medical insurance, as well as a lot of drug companies, for the most part, cover a lot of this cost. Those with no insurance can turn to organizations that have a lot of patient assistance programs aside from availing of treatment in public hospitals that also have these programs.”

An important piece of information that the campaign wants to convey is the availability of a targeted therapy of a daily pill which is very convenient and minimizes the disruption to daily life. Survival rates for NSCLC patients have been shown to be significantly higher than those treated with other therapies.

Everyone is urged to start a conversation by visiting