Everyone desires a cure for cancer; however, people need to understand that every cancerous process is different. This means that every type of cancer will require its own individual cure. Over the years, there have been impressive advances in the fields of diagnosis and treatment for many forms of cancer. Examples include head and neck cancer, skin cancer and breast cancer. Unfortunately, the life expectancy for lung cancer has largely remained the same over the years. This is because the funding and research for lung cancer haven’t matched that of its other cancerous counterparts. This has left many patients and their loved ones wondering what they should do next. Fortunately, thanks to Dr. John Heinzerling, MD, of the Southeast Radiation Oncology Group (SERO), patients and their loved ones have newfound hope.
Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer
The most common type of lung cancer is Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC). This makes up close to 90 percent of all lung cancers, according to information that has been released by the American Cancer Society (ACS). This means that the remaining lung cancers are small cell lung cancer. Annually in the United States, close to 250,000 new cases of lung cancer are diagnosed. While many people believe that lung cancer is a disease of smoking, people do not have to smoke to get lung cancer. Those who are exposed to secondhand smoke, or even those who aren’t around smoke at all, can still develop lung cancer.
Over the past few decades, the treatment options for NSCLC have not really changed. The options are still chemotherapy and radiation; however, some of the trials furnished by the Food and Drug Administration on targeted immunotherapy have shown some promise in slowing the progression of the disease. Other doctors might try to ramp up the intensity of the radiation in an effort to fight the disease. Everyone is trying to balance the benefits of cancer treatment with side effects.
Treatment with a Purpose from Dr. John Heinzerling
Dr. John Heinzerling and his group are bringing stereotactic radiation to the forefront even for advanced stages of NSCLC. Surgery for NSCLC is not an option for those with advanced tumors because it has spread to too many locations to become feasibly resectable. Now, oncologists such as Dr. Heinzeling are trying stereotactic radiation. This delivers a high dose of precision radiation to a smaller area of tissue with fewer sessions. By focusing the radiation on a targeted area, the damage to healthy, non-cancerous tissue is reduced, leading to fewer side effects. Heinzerling is conducting a trial that combines this approach with traditional radiation therapy along with novel immunotherapy options such as Imfinzi. The goal of the trial is to see whether or not this combination of treatment approaches allows doctors to better control tumors that are located in the chest. The results so far are promising.
Already, some patients and their families are starting to notice success with this treatment approach. The side effects and toxicity of the treatment still must be monitored. Common side effects include shortness of breath, coughing and scarring of the lungs (called fibrosis). Therefore, everyone in this clinical trial is monitored closely for several years to ensure that their bodies can handle such an intense treatment protocol. As research in the field of NSCLC continues to progress, it will be exciting to see how this new treatment protocol compares to the longtime industry standard. It could provide a novel treatment option for patients and their loved ones who might not have had hope in the past.