There’s a particular urgency afoot in lung cancer research and treatment. Lung cancer is one of the most common cancers in the United States, and more people die of lung cancer each year than from breast, colon, and prostate cancers combined. That urgency has focused the energy of the thoracic cancer research community, resulting in therapeutic breakthroughs that are transforming how lung cancer is treated.
Some of the most important work in the field takes place in Southern California. Physicians and researchers at City of Hope, the renowned cancer center, have combined their expertise to develop several of these innovations, providing patients with access to advanced care for even the most complex cases.
“City of Hope scientists and clinicians collaborate to provide what we call ‘bench-to-bedside’ patient care,” said Thomas Waddington, M.D., an interventional pulmonologist who specializes in lung cancer at City of Hope Newport Beach. “We’re able to rapidly move pioneering research from the lab into real therapies that are providing lung cancer patients much hope, no matter the stage of the disease.”
The leading innovations in lung cancer treatment offered at City of Hope include:
In targeted therapy, a patient’s genetic makeup, lifestyle choices, and environmental exposures are analyzed to develop a personalized treatment plan. The goal is to find the gene mutations causing the cancer and use that information to give patients the best treatment based on their unique biology. Numerous clinical trials underway at City of Hope are developing targeted therapies for small cell and non-small cell lung cancers.
Cancer cells have ways of misleading the body’s immune system so they can grow out of control without being attacked. New drugs, developed in clinical trials like those at City of Hope, work by retraining the patient’s immune system to recognize and destroy lung cancer cells. Immunotherapy may in certain cases be an effective alternative to chemotherapy.
It’s important to know exactly where a tumor is located so radiation therapy can deliver effective results while avoiding nearby organs and healthy tissues. This can be difficult when a patient’s breathing shifts the tumor in and out of place. Helical TomoTherapy uses high-precision scans to lock on the tumor’s location as the patient inhales and exhales. This information is used to develop individualized radiation therapy plans for each patient; Helical TomoTherapy may also be used to decide what type of surgery a patient needs.
Video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS)
Thoracic surgery is a delicate and intricate procedure. The goal is to remove the tumor while preserving as much healthy lung tissue as possible. To do that, surgeons insert a small video camera and robotically-assisted instruments through several tiny incisions in a patient’s chest. This procedure is minimally invasive compared to a traditional open surgery.
Robotic-assisted bronchoscopy is a game-changing technology offers physicians high-precision access to locations in the airway that used to be all but inaccessible. The robotic bronchoscope is smaller and more flexible than a regular bronchoscope, and it can use GPS to maneuver inside the lung with high accuracy. "Having this new technique has completely changed the way I think about what we're going to be able to accomplish in the future," said Waddington.
“These breakthroughs are revolutionizing how we treat lung cancer,” Waddington continued. “The strides made in research, technology, and clinical care are coming together to help lung cancer patients live longer, better and more fully.”
Lung cancer is not just a disease of people who smoked. Ask your physician about your level of risk for lung cancer and their recommendations for lung cancer screening. Screening gives you the best chance of finding lung cancer while it is at an early stage, when more treatment options like these are available and the chances of beating the disease are greatest. Learn more about our lung screening program.