As a disease that annually takes the lives of more people than breast, prostate, colon and pancreatic cancers combined, lung cancer will kill more than 156,000 people in the United States this year, according to the American Cancer Society. Additionally, about a quarter of a million people will face a lung cancer diagnosis.
November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month — a time to take action, quit smoking, educate loved ones and raise awareness for the leading cause of cancer deaths in men and women.
Research from the National Cancer Institute has found that in Travis County an average of 44 of every 100,000 people die of lung cancer each year while 57 of every 100,000 are affected by the disease.
Despite the statistics, however, exposure to lung cancer’s biggest risk factor — tobacco — can be controlled. Estimates from the American Cancer Society suggest as much as 90 percent of all instances of the disease are because of tobacco use.
“A vast majority of lung cancer patients are current or former smokers,” explains Dr. Douglas Rivera, Austin CyberKnife medical director. “Take time this month to commit to a smoking cessation program or encourage a friend or family member who smokes to quit.”
Additional risk factors for developing lung cancer include exposure to radon, asbestos, arsenic or certain chemicals and minerals or having a family history of lung cancer.
Common symptoms of lung cancer are fatigue, shortness of breath, difficulty swallowing, loss of appetite and a persistent cough along with pain in the chest, bone and joints.
Although surgery is typically the standard treatment for lung cancer, it may not be a viable option for all lung cancer patients. Conventional lung cancer surgery typically requires removing all or part of the affected lung. For those in poor health who aren’t surgical candidates, alternatives for treatment can be limited.
CyberKnife is one lung cancer treatment option that does not involve surgery. While the name may conjure images of knives and scalpels, CyberKnife treatment involves no cutting, no anesthesia and no overnight hospital stay. The CyberKnife treats patients through a procedure called stereotactic radiosurgery, a noninvasive method of treating tumors and other medical conditions with high-dose radiation precisely aimed from different angles. The result is greatly increased accuracy that spares healthy tissue.
“CyberKnife can offer effective treatment of lung tumors while carrying a low risk of side effects,” said Dr. Rivera. “While it may not be appropriate for everyone, CyberKnife can be particularly beneficial for patients with inoperable or surgically complex tumors or those whose physical conditions necessitate an alternative to surgery, especially with our Lung Optimization Treatment capabilities.”
Lung Optimization Treatment, or LOT, reduces the need for placing fiducials, small metal markers that assist physicians in identifying the exact location of the tumor and ensuring the CyberKnife’s radiation beam is locked on the target. Lung cancer patients already suffering from chronic lung disease, however, may not be able to undergo the fiducial implantation process without increased risk of a pneumothorax, or collapsed lung.
LOT opens CyberKnife treatment to more lung cancer patients who may not have previously been candidates due to other health issues. Austin CyberKnife is one of the first centers in the world to offer LOT.
Austin CyberKnife treats several different types of malignant and benign tumors in the brain, spine, lung, liver, pancreas, prostate, kidney and eye. Lung tumors and lesions are one of the center’s most frequently treated diseases. Most insurance plans and Medicare are accepted.
Austin CyberKnife is a department of University Medical Center Brackenridge and is located at 1400 N. IH-35 in Austin. It offers the only CyberKnife system in the greater Austin area for treatment of cancerous and noncancerous tumors, as well as certain medical conditions and nerve disorders.