Although smoking is one of the major causes of lung cancer, non-smokers are often diagnosed with the disease as well. To mark global Lung Cancer Awareness Month (LCAM) this November, lung cancer patients and survivors are being encouraged to share their stories of the diagnosis and treatment of the disease, and the fact that non-smokers can also be diagnosed.
"Lung cancer cannot only be caused by smoking but also from factors such as environmental pollution, occupational risks, ionizing radiation or family history. The burden of lung cancer is high, but awareness of the disease is very low as compared with other diseases such as breast cancer. This is why it’s important to get involved in awareness initiatives to help educate and inform people about this deadly disease, where early detection is key," says Dr Cindy Aitton, Head of Medical Affairs at Roche South Africa.
Early detection vital
Early detection is the most vital stage in the lung cancer treatment: "If detected at early stage, patients can receive treatments such as surgery and radiation, and have a far improved prognosis than patients who are diagnosed at a later stage," said Dr. Aitton.
What makes lung cancer an extremely difficult illness to treat is that most of the symptoms are not visible until the disease has progressed to an advanced stage.
Lung cancer patients; Carla Gluckman, Andrea Breman and Jane Miller, were all non-smokers prior to their diagnosis, and are sharing their personal journeys with lung cancer this November, with the hope that others will become more aware of their health, have regular check-ups and look after their lungs.
All three women were diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), the most common type of the disease. Each of them were fortunate enough to be treated with a relatively new biological therapy taken in tablet form and has made a big difference to their quality of life.
'My world stopped turning'
Capetonian Carla-Jane Gluckman has lived with lung cancer for the past 9 years. “Being diagnosed with lung cancer in 2002 at the age of 32 was not part of my life plans. I was extremely content with my life as a make-up artist in Cape Town, a wife and mother to my two beautiful children, Jake and Max. I was a social smoker from age 14 to 21, so you can imagine my total disbelief when I received my diagnosis. I couldn’t get my head around what the doctor was telling me. I remember saying to him I am a mother of two small children who need me. How could this happen to me? “My world stopped turning,” said Carla.
Another Capetonian, Andrea Breman was diagnosed with lung cancer in November 2005. “They found a spot on my lung which was diagnosed as lung cancer. This, I did not want to believe as I have never been a smoker! I ended up having surgery to remove the top of my lung. I am a very optimistic person and am focused on dealing with and conquering this challenge,” said Andrea.
Also sharing her journey with lung cancer is Jane Miller who lives in Pietermaritzburg. Jane was diagnosed with stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer. “I have never been a smoker and neither have I been subjected to secondary smoke, My family does not smoke and my friends don’t smoke in my house. I want people to know that even non-smokers can get lung cancer”, she said.
Oral biological therapy
These three non-smoking women also received the same treatment, a relatively new oral biological therapy.
“The dose is one tablet a day which is infinitely better for the patient’s quality of life than intravenous chemotherapy. I have had various side effects, all of which have been tolerable and manageable and my quality of life is hardly affected at all. I do normal things and have been able to enjoy my grandchildren, go on trips, carry on with my hobbies, and generally count my blessings. To me, this medicine has been a miracle”, said Jane.
“Through increased awareness together with exciting advances in new treatments, patients can have a more informed and optimistic outlook upon diagnosis. Because smoking is one of the major causes of lung cancer, there is often little sympathy for patients. What people need to understand is that anyone can be diagnosed with lung cancer, even non-smokers,” added Dr. Aitton.
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