Steps in the Right Direction – The Changing Face of Lung Cancer

Jennifer C. King, PhD

"My doctor just told me I have lung cancer… What do I do?" This is a familiar line for anyone who has spoken with a patient on Lung Cancer Alliance’s HelpLine. With a historically low survival rate and a significant stigma due to the misguided belief that it is only a “smoker’s disease,” lung cancer flies under the radar. However, no one deserves to die from any cancer, and most people don’t know that lung cancer is the number one cancer killer that will claim an estimated 160,000 lives in the U.S. this year alone.

Fortunately, thanks to the power of research, the tide is turning in the fight against this disease and there's an entirely different story to tell this November during Lung Cancer Awareness month. In the past three years alone, there have been more than 10 new drugs introduced in the lung cancer space and more than 20 Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approvals that include additional diagnostics and expanded indications. This was unheard of five years ago. 

In addition, for those at risk for developing lung cancer, there is lung cancer screening that is covered by Medicare and most private insurances – which can bend the curve towards finding lung cancer at an early stage when it is most treatable. 

The benefit of an evolution in lung cancer treatment and early detection has also been the emergence of a vocal advocacy community. These survivors and caregivers are showing up in Washington, DC to share their experiences with lung cancer while pushing for increased federal research funding to fight this disease.

These advances are definitely a step in the right direction, but there is still more work to do. Lung cancer's survival rate (18.1%) still lags far behind other common cancers like breast (89.7%), prostate (98.6%) and colorectal (64.9%). Certain types of lung cancer, such as small cell lung cancer, haven't seen new treatments come to market yet.

So this November we are celebrating the progress we have made with the understanding that momentum is on our side as we move forward. Research is the key driver paving the way for a new era of precision medicine and patient-centered care to treat lung cancer. We look forward to the next breakthroughs to continue moving the needle in the fight against this disease.

Jennifer C. King, PhD, is the director of science and research at Lung Cancer Alliance. To learn more visit

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We have health challenges in this country that science will provide answers for if given the chance and we haven't given science that opportunity
Mary Woolley, President and CEO, Research!America