Canada's Most Neglected Cancer
Lung health Anne-Marie Cerato is a 36 year old woman living with a cancer that is the leading cause of cancer death amongst women.
Anne-Marie does not have breast cancer -- she has lung cancer. Nearly 10,000 women will die from lung cancer this year — more than the total number of deaths among women from breast, uterine and ovarian cancers combined.
Anne-Marie, at just 31 and a non-smoker, is the opposite of what the public perceives to be the typical lung cancer patient.
“Lung cancer seems like the ugly cousin amongst the cancers. No one has any empathy when they think you deserve your disease when the truth is, no one deserves lung cancer.”
Fighting the stigma
“There is a stigma attached to lung cancer. Many people do not understand and expect lung cancer patients to be old, and smokers,” she explains. “Lung cancer seems like the ugly cousin amongst the cancers. No one has any empathy when they think you deserve your disease when the truth is, no one deserves lung cancer.”
In fact, statistics show that about 20 percent of those diagnosed with lung cancer are under 50 years of age and up to 15% of lung cancer diagnoses in Canada are in people who have never smoked.
Women are particularly vulnerable. While the number of men being diagnosed with lung cancer is declining each year, the rates of lung cancer diagnosis amongst women are rising. Yet attitudes towards women are harsh. A 2012 Lung Cancer Canada survey found that 35 per cent of Canadian women said they felt more sympathetic towards women with breast cancer than they do towards women with lung cancer.
The latest Canadian lung cancer statistics point to progress in the fight against this deadly disease. This year, the five-year survival rate has increased from 16% to 18%. The development of new treatments that have fewer side effects than traditional chemotherapy may have played a key role.
"Anne Marie is one of those patients with new hope. Her cancer is responding to one of the new targeted therapies."
Targeted therapies are among the latest advances in new lung cancer treatment. Doctors examine the genetic makeup of the cancer and match it with drugs that target specific genes that drive the cancer’s growth. Other new treatments are being developed in clinical trials, including immunotherapy that can help a patient’s own immune system recognize and kill cancer cells. Doctors have seen dramatic cancer improvement in some patients receiving these new treatments as part of research studies.
The implementation of a national screening program is another solution that will help save more lives. Screening people with the highest risk of lung cancer, using low-dose computerized tomography or CT, allows for earlier detection of the disease at a more curable stage. An estimated 1,250 Canadian lives could be saved each year with lung cancer screening programs.
With many new breakthroughs in lung cancer therapy, patients often live better, longer, and can do more – even hope more.
Anne Marie is one of those patients with new hope. Her cancer is responding to one of the new targeted therapies.
“I now view my disease as chronic and manageable, rather than terminal. While I initially set a goal to live until age 40, I now plan for more of life’s milestones!”