Lung Cancer: 1 in 5 patients with lung cancer do not receive treatment

Access to Treatment: 1 in 5 lung cancer patients get no treatment

Breakthroughs in cancer treatments are helping patients live longer — with a higher quality of life.

But there’s a catch: these advancements are only for those patients who gain access to the right treatment. A startling number of patients living with lung cancer aren’t getting access to the care they need to extend their life.

According to new research from the University of California, Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, one in five patients with non-small cell lung cancer receive no treatment. Nearly 200,000 patients living with non-small cell lung cancer are forgoing chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery.

“Not getting treated for this cancer is associated with dismal outcomes,” explained study author Dr. Elizabeth David, an assistant professor of surgery. “Although more progress is needed, meaningful treatment options do exist, and they are easier to tolerate than they used to be. At a minimum, patients should be aware of these options and the risks and benefits associated with them.”

Treatment is critical to survival. In reviewing data from the National Cancer Database, researchers found that patients with stage 3A NSCLC who received chemotherapy and radiation, lived nearly 3 times longer than those who received no treatment. Stage 4 patients who received chemotherapy had a median survival of 9.3 months compared to just 2 months for those who received no treatment.

The study, published in The Journal of Thoracic Oncology, analyzed data from the U.S. National Cancer Database from 1998-2012.

Treatment Deficit: Lung cancer stigma, barriers to access

To reverse this trend, we have to start by addressing the barriers preventing patients from accessing treatments.

That starts by confronting the stigma — that lung cancer only affects smokers. Lung cancer, the most lethal form of cancer, kills 158,000 people every year — with non-small lung cancer being the most common type of lung cancer.

“If you have lungs, you can get lung cancer,” patient advocate Karen Loss reminded the audience at our Voices of Value event in St. Louis. “People don’t realize that anyone can get lung cancer. We have a terrible smoker’s stigma. You smoked, you did it to yourself.”

UC Davis researchers agree.

“Lung cancer still has a bad stigma, and I think that influences both patients and providers,” said Dr. Elizabeth David, the lead author of the treatment study. “Efforts to lessen the stigma are ongoing, including educational and social media initiatives highlighting the fact that the number of lung cancer cases in people who have never smoked cigarettes continues to rise.”

In addition to fighting the stigma, we need to eliminate the barriers and delays that prevent lung cancer patients from getting the treatment as soon as they need it. If a patient knows it will take months battling their insurance, they may decide it’s not worth it. The bureaucracy, the insurance paperwork, the delays and denials — all drain patients of precious energy that should be spent fighting their disease.

Patient’s Voice: Jeff Julian on why lung cancer patients forgo treatments

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