Lung Cancer & the Future of Immunotherapy

Cancer is the 2nd leading cause of death in the U.S. following heart disease.

Cancer cells

Growth of cancerous cells

Lung cancer is predicted to be the deadliest cancer of all in 2017… but why exactly is it so prevalent and deadly? Is there a cure for lung cancer (and cancer in general)?


Let’s first look at some Background Information of lung cancer:

1) Lung cancer is a cancer that originates in the lungs, where lung cells reproduce at an abnormally rapid rate and transform into cancerous cells. They usually originate in the cells near the bronchi (airways), bronchioles (smaller branches coming off a bronchus) or alveoli (tiny air sacs). Lung cancer occurs most commonly in smokers and second-hand smokers.

illustration showing details of the lungs and surrounding areas

Diagram of the lungs

2) There are over 20 types of lung cancer. The 3 most common types are non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), small cell lung cancer (SCLC), and lung carcinoid tumor.

  1. About 80 to 85% of lung cancers are NSCLC; they grow and spread slower than SCLC. NSCLC includes many cancer subtypes that entail similar behaviors, treatment and prognosis, including Adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.
    Stage Five-year survival rate
    1A 49 percent
    1B 45 percent
    2A 30 percent
    2B 31 percent
    3A 14 percent
    3B 5 percent
    4, or metastatic 1 percent

                    5 year survival rate for NSCLC

  2. SCLC is an aggressive cancer that accounts for about 10 to 15 % of lung cancers. It is malignant, creates large tumors and spreads quickly to other parts of the body. Its primary cause is smoking.
    Stage Survival rate
    1 31 percent
    2 19 percent
    3 8 percent
    4, or metastatic 2 percent

          5 year survival rate for SCLC

  3. Lung carcinoid tumors are slow progressing tumors that account for less than 5% of lung tumors. They develop in neuroendocrine cells, but the cause of the mutations that lead to these carcinoid tumors is unknown. Since lung carcinoid tumors are made of neuroendocrine cells, affected patients often experience flushed skin and diarrhea as a result of overproduction of hormones.
    Stage Survival rate
    1 93 percent
    2 85 percent
    3 75 percent
    4 57 percent

3) Demographics

  1. The average age of diagnosis is 70.
  2.  Lung cancer comparison between men and women:
  3. Lung cancer stats

    Black men are diagnosed with lung cancer 20% more than white men.

4) Causes

  1. The leading cause for lung cancer is smoking. Increased exposure to carcinogen (a substance of cigarette smoke) damages lung cell linings, which can lead to abnormal growth in the cells. Smoking leads to SCLC more commonly than other types of lung cancers.

    [statistics] How smoking relates to lung cancer

  2. Similarly, being a secondhand smoker increases one’s risk of developing lung cancer.
  3. People with specific occupations (chemists, aluminum production, glass manufacturing) can be exposed to harmful chemicals including asbestos, radon and nickel.
  4.  Another risk factor is genetics. DNA can mutate by turning on tumor suppressing genes or turning them off. Or, people with a family history of lung cancer possess certain gene mutations (particularly gene 6) are more likely to develop lung cancer.

5) Symptoms

  1. Chronic coughing
  2. Coughing up blood
  3. Unintentional weight loss (due to reduced appetite)
  4. Difficulty breathing
  5. Fatigue
  6. Chest pain
  7. Repeated cases of infections (bronchitis, pneumonia etc.)
  8. If the cancer spreads → pain in bones, jaundice, weakened nervous system, swelling, headaches, lumps on or near the neck/collar bone

6) Common treatments

  1. Surgery to remove the cancerous tumor (if it is relatively safe to do so). Risks include infection, excessive bleeding, and difficulty breathing.
  2. Chemotherapy is used commonly after surgery to kill remaining cancer cells, either given through IV or orally.
  3. Likewise, radiation is used to kill cancerous cells, sometimes after surgery.
  4. Depending on the cancerous cells’ genetic mutations, drug therapy can be targeted specifically towards the genetic mutations as treatment.
  5. Immunotherapy (to be discussed)


Now that we have a sense of what lung cancer is, let’s return to the question posed initially. Is there a cure for lung cancer?

While more people with lung cancer are still alive today (430,000) than before, there is no cure for lung cancer yet, as you probably have guessed. Even with the current treatments mentioned above, cancerous cells can develop after a patient has been declared cancer-free. Thus, it is recommended for patients to have regular checkups after their treatment.

Before moving on to immunotherapy and more, it would be great if you can help fill out this quick real time survey regarding lung cancer and immunotherapy: Thank you!

The survey will be open beginning 4/27.

[PODCAST] Cancer Immunotherapy 

Strengthen Immune System

Organs of the Immune System

Part I:

Part II:

(Script for follow along if needed


[VIDEO] Call to Action: Awareness, Prevention & Immunotherapy


Personal Connection, Community Engagement & Concluding Thoughts

After all, why did I choose to research lung cancer in the first place? Well, doctors have identified my dad as being very likely to have lung cancer, and he already has tumors growing in his lungs. During the 1st trimester of my online medical course, I interviewed my dad on lung cancer. Although cancer may seem intimidating, but from the way my dad described it, I felt more hopeful that he may be able to conquer lung cancer. Not just my dad, but as mentioned at the beginning, lung cancer (and cancer in general) are affecting so many worldwide, threatening the health and perhaps, existence of humanity. 

Studying the fascinating topic of immunotherapy offered me even more hope and excitement for what the future holds for mankind. I hope that you too, will take into consideration the promises of immunotherapy as a new treatment for a deadly disease and support the already-growing field of immunotherapy.

For my community service portion back in November, I reached out further than just helping my Dad (which I already do), but I didn’t know anyone else with lung cancer very well. So I decided to work with a local chapter Best Buddies, and volunteered with people that had intellectual and developmental disabilities, which allowed me to practice the bedside skills that I had begun to in my medical course in real life. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to see those less fortunate than I, which also related back to lung cancer patients.



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