Jill Feldman has not smoked, but she has been carefully screened for lung cancer since the illness discouraged her family.
At 13, she lost two grandparents within weeks of each other. Only months later, her father was also diagnosed after complaining of a bad cough. He was only 41 when he died.
When she was in her 20s, her mother also developed lung cancer and died, followed by a close aunt – five loved ones who had passed away in just over a decade.
Then at the age of 39, Feldman received the news, which he feared.
"Imagine how you would feel if you were diagnosed with the same disease that you literally watched kill both your mother and your father," she says today.
Each year, more men and women die from lung cancer than from colon, breast, and prostate cancer combined. It is often detected late ̵
But thanks to two surgeries and targeted therapy for her specific type of lung cancer, Feldman lives with the disease more than a decade later – evidence that advances in treatment have changed everything.
Feldman's cancer is incurable but contained in the breast. The goal is to treat as chronic a disease as long as possible, she noted. Her targeted therapy is in the form of a pill that she will take every day until the cancer develops drug resistance.
Such therapies mean that some lung cancer is no longer a death sentence, said Dr. Elena Yu, a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
She showed computed tomography images of another patient showing pulmonary tumors mostly disappeared after three months of treatment.
Trending stories, celebrity news and all the best from TODAY.
Researchers now know that all lung cancer is not the same: there are different types, plus genetic mutations that can unlock the disease, Doctors can categorize it by genetic makeup to build personalized treatment for the disease each patient; however, the proportion of people with lung cancer who are eligible for targeted therapy is still "quite low" – about 25%, Yu said.
There are also markers that tell doctors whether patients would be eligible for immunotherapy, so
Research is crucial, but funding is not easy. While lung cancer kills more men and women than colon, breast and prostate cancer together, only 6% of federal research dollars go to the disease.
"Truly cancer survivors are the biggest fundraisers, and I think historically, we haven't had so many survivors who have lung cancer," says Yu.
"There is a stigma. which is related to lung cancer, where people think, "If someone has never smoked, they will never get lung cancer."
Coping with Stigma
When Feldman was diagnosed, people with question # 1 asked her how long she had been smoking. This troubles the non-smoker.
"Every other cancer, people say, 'I'm so sorry. What can I do to help? "With lung cancer, you're immediately on the defensive," she noted.
One in seven people who have lung cancer have never smoked a cigarette, Yu said.
Someone in the United States will be diagnosed with lung cancer every 2 minutes and 20 seconds. if rding to the American Lung Association. Feldman and other patients argue at this rate, it doesn't matter if the person smoked or not – everyone deserves a cure for the disease.
Feldman set out on a mission to reduce the stigma surrounding lung cancer and change people.
She is the former president of LUNGevity, a funding organization for research, and co-founder of an advocacy group for her type of cancer. Being able to connect with others who have had the same experience is a "lifeline" and makes the world different.
She and her husband of 24 years have four children. Her diagnosis still weighs heavily on the family.
In the last three years, the US Food and Drug Administration has approved more treatments for lung cancer than it has in the last three decades, and that brings hope.
"I have never used the word 'hope' in the same sentence as lung cancer, as in my experience it was not. But there is hope now. This is a real hope, ”Feldman said.
So real that she decided to tattoo the word on her hand as a constant reminder.
The best chance of fighting lung cancer is to catch it early
Early detection is still difficult as symptoms can be confused with other common conditions such as pneumonia.
The American Lung Association says warning signs include:
- Cough that does not disappear and worsens over time
- persistent chest pain
- shortness of breath or wheezing
- infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia
- cough blood
There is no good way to scan for lung cancer early, as the image can often detect false positives, leading to unnecessary invasive procedures and causing more harm than good. The goal is to offer a simple blood test in the future, but that doesn't exist yet, Yu said.
For now, the best advice is to check for lung cancer every year if you have a history of heavy smoking and are on age 55 or older.