Lung cancer kills more people than colon, breast and prostate cancer combined, according to research from the American Cancer Society. The chance of developing lung cancer is one in 13 for men and one in 16 for women, with the risk greatly increased for smokers, the nonprofit ACS reports.
But early detection of incipient lung tumors can vastly improve survival rates, a widely published cancer researcher and clinical specialist told McMinnville’s Noon Rotary Club on Thursday.
“The biggest problem is we don’t have routine screening for lung cancer, the No. 1 killer. It doesn’t make sense,” said Dr Pierre Massion, Ingram professor of cancer research and professor of medicine and cancer biology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
But things are changing, Dr. Massion said, as VUMC is pushing for easily available, effective and low-cost testing.
In a series of dramatic slides showing CT scans (computer-assisted tomography) of cancerous lungs, the Rotary speaker emphasized a patient with a miniscule tumor in one lung had died some 18 months later because the tiny enemy within had blossomed into an incurable illness.
“Of the patients I see, only about 25 percent can be offered hope of cure,” he said. “I can help prolong life and provide a better quality of life.”
The majority of lung cancer patients experience no symptoms until the cancerous precursors have grown to dangerous proportions, he said. By that time, the likelihood of successful treatment has been greatly diminished, he explained.
The visiting speaker pointed to a Vanderbilt-led research project, the Nashville Lung Cancer Screening Trial, aimed at correlating likely biological markers, including those obtained from blood and nasal mucous samples, with CT lung scans in the hope of engineering reliable, minimal-cost screenings. Volunteers, aged 55-81 who are past or current tobacco users, are eligible to participate. For a printed brochure on the study, call 615-322-4500.
Massion departed from his prepared remarks to recognize longtime Rotarian and retired McMinnville businessperson Howard Locke. The Brussels-born physician said that as a very young Army pilot, Locke flew C47 cargo planes repeatedly behind German lines in southwest Europe in the darkness before the Normandy Invasion on June 6, 1944. Club members responded with sustained applause.
Locke, who learned to fly while he was a University of Tennessee student in 1940, volunteered for the Army Air Corps before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that brought the United States into World War II. The low-altitude night drops of paratroopers before D-Day were among the most dangerous and difficult airborne missions during the war.
“On behalf of my family I thank you,” the prominent medical researcher told Locke. “Many members of my family were killed during the war, and we and other Europeans will never forget the sacrifices and service of you Americans.”