Over 430,000 people are alive today who have been diagnosed at some point with lung cancer. Lying in bed in the next room as I write this article, and fighting to hang onto every last breath, is one of them. In 2003, we lost another one of them, my dad.
Both were diagnosed with what is known as non-small cell lung cancer. Of the two different types of lung cancer, this is the more common, affecting upwards of 85% of those who have been diagnosed. Of this, there are also many subtypes as well, which are derived from different types of lung cells. But, because treatment and prognosis are so similar, these subtypes are grouped together as NSCLC, or non-small cell lung cancer.
What Is Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer?
According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer starts when cells of the lung become abnormal and begin to grow out of control. As more cancer cells develop, they can form into a tumor and spread to other areas of the body. The two main types of lung cancer are:
- Non-small cell lung cancer, which affects 80-85% of patients diagnosed
- Small cell lung cancer, which affects 10-15% of patients diagnosed
Of Non-small cell lung cancer, there are different subtypes:
- Squamous cell (epidermoid) carcinoma
- Large cell (undifferentiated) carcinoma
What Are The Symptoms Of NSCLC?
Often times, for many different types of lung cancer, there are no noticeable symptoms until after the cancer has spread. However, some with early detection, can experience various symptoms. For certain, early detection due to symptoms can lead to treatment being more effective. Some symptoms for lung cancer are:
- A nagging cough that refuses to go away
- Feeling tired or weak
- Shortness of breath
- Coughing up of blood
- Weight loss and loss of appetite
These are but a few of the many different symptoms for non-small cell lung cancer. If you are someone you know is experiencing any of these, please consult your physician.
How Is NSCLC Treated?
There are various stages to non-small cell lung cancer, and based on what stage the patient’s cancer is in, can inform the type of treatment administered. Also, a patient’s state of health and lung function as well as type of cancer can be a determining factor as well.
The various stages for non-small cell lung cancer are as follows:
- Occult (hidden) stage
- Stage 0
- Stage I
- Stage II
- Stage III
- Stage IV
Is There Hope For NSCLC Patients?
Since my own father died in 2003 from NSCLC, it has been encouraging to see advancements in treating patients who have been diagnosed with this type of lung cancer. Of course, early detection is always crucial, but, as we have discussed earlier, with NSCLC, by the time it is diagnosed, it has often times already metastasized to other parts of the body.
However, as recently as November 29th of 2018, while addressing patients and families at the University of Washington Carbone Cancer Center’s Lung Cancer Awareness Night, medical oncologist Ticiana Leal, MD, stated that, “In the past year alone, there have been many advances in lung cancer treatment, and several presentations of impact in clinical research that have already changed the standard of care. These advances in immunotherapy have only been coming since 2015 when we had the approval of the first immunotherapy in lung cancer; before then most patients received chemotherapy.”
Furthermore, Leal reported that for a disease, lung cancer, that had a five-year survival rate of only five percent for advanced stages, the addition of immunotherapy has improved that rate to 16 percent. This rate is expected to keep increasing. There has also been other breakthroughs in treatment as well.
In her presentation, Leal shared that our previous way of practicing was that all lung cancers were the same. In this, they were then all treated the same. One of the other breakthroughs was found in gaining an understanding that there are actually alterations within the tumor cells that could be driving the cancer. What is critical here is that in this, perhaps a pathway could be found that can in-turn, be blocked with a drug.
With this, yes, perhaps hope has come, and will continue to come for those who are alive today who have been diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer.
The Next Room
Yet sadly, in the next room, a family prepares to say goodbye to their mother. A grandmother prepares to say goodbye to her grandchildren. And, the world prepares to say goodbye to a dearly beloved. Only Heaven awaits the release of the tether now. With dad, everything happened so fast. The decline was sudden and rapid. It took our breath away. In the next room, it happened again. Blink.
But, what if things could change? What if these such advancements could buy time? What if more memories could be made? But, of course, as with any advancements, there is the question of access and cost.
In the Crossfire Of Diagnosis And Cost of Treatment
As it is, and this would be determined by many varying factors, which would include the patient’s coverage, a recent study on the economic burden of lung cancer and the associated costs of treatment failure in the United States found that the overall costs, from diagnosis to a maximum of two years thereafter, to be upwards of $46,000. This same study also found that hospitalization (49% of costs), outpatient office visits (35.2% of costs), and monthly initial treatment phase cost of $11,500 per patient, were the main drivers.
In another study from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, they found that patients with lung cancer are typically hospitalized for 7 days at a cost of $15,600 total, or $2,200 per day.
For those caught in the crossfire of diagnosis and cost of treatment, is the biggest of enemies time? What if there was help for those diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer? And what if this help could bring hope?
Who Is Patient Services Incorporated?
The founder of Patient Services Incorporated shaped the very first non-profit patient assistance model in 1989. Dr. Dana Kuhn knows the pain firsthand of watching a loved one fight-and-lose their battle against chronic illness; he knows, too, the crippling financial burden often carried by those left behind. Since our inception in 1989, Patient Services has been a pioneer leading the charge to find solutions to the challenges that face the chronically ill in the United States.
What Type Of Assistance Does PSI Provide?
Patient Services, Inc. continues to provide peace of mind to patients living with specific chronic illnesses by providing financial assistance to eligible persons by:
- Subsidizing the cost of health insurance premiums
- Providing pharmacy and treatment copayment assistance
- Assisting with infusion and nursing costs
- Providing travel assistance for transportation reimbursement
- Providing ancillary support
Patients are required to meet medical and financial eligibility criteria.