November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month and a great opportunity to raise awareness about the signs and symptoms of lung cancer as well as to highlight some of the wonderful work taking place in our region for lung cancer patients.
Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer in the world, with more people dying from lung cancer than breast, colorectal and prostate cancers combined. Around 11,000 people are diagnosed with lung cancer in Australia each year.
Western NSW Local Health District Medical Oncologist Rob Zielinski said the good news is that a focus on personalised treatment is providing hope to lung cancer patients for increased survival.
“Although chemotherapy remains the backbone of our treatments there are several new exciting oral drugs that target specific lung cancer mutations,” Dr Zielinski said.
“These drugs have milder side effects and perform better than traditional chemotherapy. We are entering a new treatment age for lung cancer where there is real hope with effective treatments for even advanced lung cancers”.
Dr Zielinski said all lung tumours are different, depending on gene mutations and other factors such as race, age and smoking history.
“It’s not a ‘one treatment fits all’ approach, and we are finding by customising treatment to suit a particular type of tumour, our patients are experiencing better outcomes”.
While new and customised treatments are improving the outcomes for people diagnosed with lung cancer, early detection is vital as if found at an earlier stage the disease is often curable. According to Cancer Australia, the signs and symptoms of lung cancer can include:
• a new cough that has persisted for three weeks or more
• a changed cough
• coughing up blood
• a chest infection that won’t go away
• chest pain and/or shoulder pain
• shortness of breath
• hoarse voice
• weight loss or loss of appetite
“Of course prevention is what we want people to really focus on, so leading a healthy life, including eating a good diet, getting regular exercise, avoiding smoking and limiting exposure to second-hand smoke is really important,” Dr Zielinski said.
Smoking rates in rural areas are about 40% higher than major cities and in Aboriginal communities the smoking rate is more than double the rates in the non-Aboriginal population (Cancer Institute NSW, 2014 - http://www.cancerinstitute.org.au/lung-cancer).
The Western NSW Local Health District recently launched the ‘You just Don’t Smoke Around Hospitals’ campaign to clear the air on health campuses around the LHD. Part of the campaign will be ensuring that patients and staff are aware of the support available, including Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT).
Recent Australian Institute of Health Data on Mortality Inequalities in Australia 2009-2011 outlines more people living in remote areas die from lung cancer, as well as many other types of cancer, than those living in urban areas.
“The Report indicated that there were 11% more deaths from lung cancer in the country than in the city, so the prevention message is very important for people in Western NSW,” Dr Zielinski said.
More information about Lung Cancer Awareness Month can be found at http://canceraustralia.gov.au/healthy-living/campaigns-events/lung-cancer-awareness-month