Alternative Treatments for Late-Stage Lung Cancer

A piece recently published by NPR highlighted an issue that we believe is critically important: access to alternative treatments for lung cancer and mesothelioma patients. Our team of lung cancer lawyers details this article and the inspiring story behind it.

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network is an association made up of 26 esteemed cancer centers in the world. The Network publishes guidelines used by oncologists throughout the country to help develop treatment plans for patients. A group of lung cancer patients recently made suggestions to change the Network’s guidelines to reflect new advances in a certain type of late-stage lung cancer.

Specifically, the group of patients suggested new guidelines on aggressive treatment for people with less than three to five tumors. This is a type of cancer classification known as oligometastasis, which is somewhere between localized (contained to the original site, such as the lung) and metastasized (spread). For example, a patient with multiple tumors in the same lung would be classified as stave IV oligometastatic.

According to researchers at the University of Chicago, the concept of oligometastasis is extremely important in cancer treatment. This classification, where spread is present but confined, was previously thought to be incurable for lung cancer. Research now suggests that oligometastasic cancer might be cured with local cancer therapies, like surgery or radiotherapy.

This possibility is not noted in the Network’s guidelines, despite many doctors and patients who can confirm the efficacy of local treatments for oligometastases. One of these patients, Chris Newman, saw what was lacking and chose to submit revisions to the Center’s guidelines online – something that is typically only done by professionals.

Many people in Newman’s group credit their long-term stage IV lung cancer survival on oligometastases surgery. With help from these patients and other allies, Newman edited the Network’s guidelines proposal to argue for local therapy for oligomestatic cancer. Fifteen clinicians officially supported the proposal.

On January 1, 2015, the Network released its updated guidelines. Included were some of Newman’s suggestions, including the potential for aggressive therapy for limited-site oligometastatic disease. Newman believes this to be an important, albeit small victory for patients like her.

Newman states that cancer patients should have all the relevant information before deciding how to treat their cancer. Many patients with oligometastasic cancer can benefit from aggressive surgery, radiology and radiation, and many types can be safely removed (though there are always risks to surgery).

About half of all non-small lung cancer patients have some spreading by the time they are diagnosed. This is part of the reason why lung cancer is so extraordinarily fatal. These patients need as many options as possible when treating their cancer, and doctors should be aware that some forms of oligometastases may be cured with surgery, radiology or radiotherapy. The National Cancer Institute does not recognize oligometastatic as a classification, however, and many doctors still prefer chemotherapy for these patients.

This has important implications for many cancer patients. A 2012 study found that most late-stage lung cancer patients did not understand that chemotherapy was unlikely to cure their cancer. Experts credit this to a breakdown in communication between doctors and patients when discussing prognosis and treatment options. Unfortunately, many oncologists do not believe that local treatments can cure oligometastatic cancer and thus do not even offer it as an option. It is often up to patients to bridge the gap and ask questions.

The end goal for doctors is to treat a patient and cure their cancer. In late-stage lung cancers, chemotherapy alone will not cure a patient; it is used to prolong life and lessen pain. If a patient believes that chemotherapy could cure their cancer, it would compromise their ability to make the best treatment decisions. Patients with limited-spread lung cancer should know that their disease could be cured with other therapies.

Our team of lung cancer lawyers strives to keep out clients up-to-date on the best treatments, hospitals and trials. If you or someone you love was recently diagnosed with lung cancer or mesothelioma contact our firm today. We help clients and families nationwide, and we never charge any attorneys’ fees unless we are successful in your case.

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