Dern's Lung Cancer Loss
- Actress Laura Dern, 54, was just 6 years old when her grandfather passed from lung cancer and calls his passing “very painful.”
- In a new interview with People, Dern shares that this disease “the No. 1 cancer killer of women” and that Black Americans face worse outcomes when diagnosed with lung cancer.
- Lung cancer treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, targeted drug therapy, and immunotherapy; former and current heavy smokers should consider screening for lung cancer to reduce their risk.
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Recalling the loss of her grandfather, she tells People, “I really went through his treatments, and everything that he walked through with lung cancer for the last year of his life, which was very painful.” She continues, “And then of course the loss of him. So it was a huge memory for me in childhood, specifically the disease itself.”
Highlighting the disparity of the disease, when it comes to race and gender, she says that lung cancer is “the No. 1 cancer killer of women,” and that “People of color who are diagnosed with lung cancer face worse outcomes compared to white Americans, because they’re less likely to get screening early, to be diagnosed early, less likely to have surgical options and more likely to have no medical care with lung cancer.”
Lung Cancer Treatment Options
Laura Dern has been a force for good in raising awareness around this disease, after losing her grandfather to it. She “helped raise awareness of the life-threatening infection that attacks the lungs and support the 36 million Americans who live with asthma, COPD and lung cancer who are more susceptible to severe complications from COVID-19.”
Lung cancer treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, targeted drug therapy and immunotherapy. For those undergoing immunotherapy – which will commonly occur in stage four lung cancer patients – thoracic surgeon Dr. Brendon Stiles wants patients to have an awareness about the potential challenges presented by battling lung cancer during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Stiles says, “Almost all stage four patients now who don’t have targeted mutations or rearrangements are on a path where they’re going to see immunotherapy during their treatment course.”
“And we really don’t know what the interaction of that is going to be with the virus,” he says. “I think you could probably argue both ways that it may completely throw your immune system out of whack and predispose you to infection. Maybe because you’re getting an immune stimulus, you’re going to be able to fight off viruses better.”
“I think we’re going to need a lot more data to really understand that better,” he continues. “Where we could potentially run into trouble is that some of these drugs can cause pneumonitis, inflammation in the lungs, some side effects.”
Screening for Lung Cancer
One of the biggest risk factors for developing lung cancer is smoking. Former and current smokers should screen for lung cancer to reduce their risk of developing the disease, or missing it until it reaches a later stage, which may limit treatment options.
Dr. Patrick Forde, a thoracic oncologist at Johns Hopkins, says in an earlier interview how imperative and life-saving screening is for smokers. “Over the last few years, there’s been a number of studies looking at using low dose CT scans of the chest in patients who have a history of smoking to try and pick up lung cancers in earlier stage,” he says.
“About 70% to 80% of patients who are diagnosed with lung cancer, unfortunately, the cancer has spread outside of the lung and is not suitable for surgery,” says Dr. Forde. “And there have been a number of studies, most recently, one in the Netherlands, which looked at doing CT scans for patients who are over the age of 55 and had a significant smoking history for many years and then monitoring them on a regular basis with a low dose CT of the chest.”
He explains how screening is an effective tool for prevention. “And they were able to show a reduction in the numbers of lung cancers which had spread outside of the chest. They were able to pick them up in earlier stage and potentially cure them at a higher rate than not doing screening.”