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Doctor Explains Course of Action for Lung Cancer Diagnosis

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Published on October 14, 2020

What is the Best Course of Action for a Lung Cancer Diagnosis?

Lung cancer is the second-most diagnosed type of cancer in the United States. If you are someone you love has recently been diagnosed with lung cancer, you may be facing an overwhelming amount of information. For straightforward and trustworthy advice, listen to our interview with lung cancer doctor and expert, Dr. Heather Wakelee, professor of Medicine in the Division of Oncology at the Stanford University Medical Center. She will cover topics including how lung cancer can develop, the different ways it can be diagnosed, and the importance of working with your healthcare team to determine the best course of action.

Transcript | Doctor Explains Course of Action for Lung Cancer Diagnosis

Dr. Wakelee: I can think back to when I was an undergraduate and learning about immunology and thinking, well, why isn't this working against cancer? That's what it's supposed to be doing and of course, many other people were thinking the same thing.

What is Lung Cancer? 

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer that's diagnosed in the United States and it starts in the lung. So, it can travel from the lung to any other spot in the body, but we call it lung cancer when that's where it started.

And for some people, we know some of the risk factors for lung cancer, but a lot of people, we don't know why they got it and some people are found to have the disease because they went for screening and other people get diagnosed completely unexpectedly. They get a chest X-Ray because they were going for surgery or if they come to see their doctor because of a cough that just won't go away or a pain somewhere. So, there's a lot of different ways it can be diagnosed, but the key factor is it started in the lungs and spread from there usually.

What is the Treatment for Lung Cancer?

A lot of times people want to get started on their therapy yesterday. Understandably, because they're very worried about it. But it's really important that you make sure that the person is treated with the best treatment to start off with. So that's going to involve talking to a team of doctors if it's an early-stage cancer; stage one, two, and especially stage three. Having a tumor board discussion is ideal, so a surgeon and a radiation oncologist and a medical oncologist can all weigh in on the best thing to do. 

We have a lot of treatment choices for people with lung cancer and so people need to hold onto hope. The best treatment is a treatment we start with the most information; PD-L1 immune marker information, biomarker information about the gene targets that might be in the tumor and then taking all that into account with the patient's other health history. And then just being there for them and making sure that they know that there's someone there to help them on this journey.

As we better understood the immune system and realized some of the major regulators of “why does an immune cell attack a cancer or not,” and how can we get it to do a better job of that, then drugs were developed that led the immune system to better attack the cancers. And those are now absolutely critical to the treatment of most people with lung cancer and a lot of other cancers as well. And that's again, because of science and because of patients who are willing to go through those trials, and that's how we've moved forward to having these amazing new options for people.

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