A question I often hear is: "Is lung cancer curable?" Is there a time, say, if you've survived for 5 years, that you can call your lung cancer cured? Does lung cancer ever just go away? What about so-called alternative treatments - can any of them cure lung cancer? What if it's caught early enough?
The answer - the hard callous medical answer, that is - is that lung cancer is not curable. Even when it's caught in the earliest stages. There's always a chance that it can come back.
It's New Year's Eve - the beginning of a new year. And with that I think it's important to point out a few positive things, even if those positive things are rare, or even, almost miraculous at times.
- When lung cancer is caught in the early stages, even though it can't be called cured per se, there is a good chance that people will live a long time (what doctors refer to as long-term survival.)
- Even with a stage 4 lung cancer, some people live for many years, even decades. There's even reported cases of more than a handful of people who have lived a decade after their stage 4 lung cancer had spread to their brain.
- Statistics are generalities. They don't take into account individual people. And even the best lung cancer statistics are often many years old. For example, the latest statistics we have on >lung cancer survival rates are from 2008 - and they in turn measured survival prior to that date.
- There is progress being made in lung cancer research and treatment. I don't say that only as a physician. My brother's mother-in-law is on a treatment for
stage 4 lung cancer that would not have been available to her 3 years ago. And instead of thriving with her children and grandchildren over the holidays, statistics tell us she wouldn't be here.
- There are reported cases of lung cancer "just going away." Physicians use the terminology "spontaneous remission" to describe what can't be described based on medical knowledge, and what others may instead refer to as a "miracle."
- Judging by some of the amazing lung cancer advocates I've met these past few years, I only expect awareness to increase and funding to improve so that the exceptions and miracles, instead become "average" - statistically speaking.
The problem with the question above, "is lung cancer curable," is that it's really a whole list of questions, all with different answers, and the only way to address the question accurately, is to first ask these other questions. But keep in mind again, that the medical answer, the cold clinical answer, is based on statistics. And people aren't statistics.
Photo: National Cancer Institute, Rhoda Baer (photographer)