This is why lung cancer and mesothelioma are not immediate death sentences

The last word a patient wants to hear their doctor say is cancer.

The diagnosis triggers dread and anxiety, particularly when patients learn they have lung cancer – the nation’s top cancer killer. But science and research are offering lung cancer patients more hope, thanks to advancements in diagnostics, treatments, and surgeries.

The leading cause of lung cancer is smoking, while other causes include air pollution, exposure to secondhand smoke, radon, and asbestos. One factor that makes lung cancer so deadly is that it often goes undetected in patients who don’t receive early screening and don’t experience any symptoms until it is often well advanced.

But anyone who is considered high-risk for lung cancer can get the screening necessary to identify it before it’s too late. And that opens doors to treatment and surgery options that are helping patients live longer today.

This is especially true when deadly cancers identified are those that tend to grow at a relatively slow rate. Epithelioid mesothelioma, for example, is a form of mesothelioma, a deadly and incurable cancer caused by inhaled asbestos fibers. The epithelioid cancer cells grow slowly and, therefore, respond favorably to treatments like surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. That’s why epithelioid mesothelioma has the best prognosis and survival rate of all mesothelioma cell types, with patients often surviving up to two years after their diagnosis.

Anyone who has been exposed to asbestos should ask their physician to look for signs of mesothelioma, which is diagnosed in about 3,000 people each year in the U.S.

Despite the high number of lung cancer deaths in the U.S., a 2019 study by the American Lung Association found the five-year survival rate for lung cancer increased from 21.7% nationally to 26%, with variations found by state.

One factor affecting the improving survival rate is the early diagnosis of the disease. But some researchers fear the COVID-19 pandemic could take a toll on that progress, as fewer people are ignoring health screenings and necessary treatments for fear of contracting the virus.

Some of the advancements that offer hope to those who are diagnosed early with lung cancer and with slow-growing cancer include immunotherapy, detection through biomarkers, surgical robotics, and more sophisticated forms of radiation therapy.

New imaging technologies have given doctors more tools to help identify and stage cancer, while less invasive surgeries help speed up recovery times, according to a New York Times report. That report also noted the U.S. cancer death rate fell 2.2 percent from 2016 to 2017, which the American Cancer Society labeled as the largest single-year decline in cancer mortality ever reported.

No one wants to learn they have lung cancer. But that’s not the last word for the patient as new options and advancements offer opportunities for longer survival.