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Health Team

Survivors Raise Awareness of Lung Cancer

Posted November 2, 2007

Lung cancer kills more men and women than any other cancer, but receives less funding for research than three of the other most deadly cancers combined.

Lung cancer leads to more than deaths than colorectal, breast and prostrate cancers taken together, and now more doctors and lung-cancer survivors are stepping out to bring attention to the disease.

Steve Shakal is an unusual breed: Diagnosed with advanced lung cancer in 2000, he is still alive seven years later, after surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.

"Eighty-five percent of those diagnosed today are dead within five years," Shakal said.

The high death rate comes because most people are not diagnosed until they show symptoms of an advanced stage of cancer. Those symptoms include shortness of breath, chronic coughing or coughing up blood coupled with unexplained weight loss.

"Most patients that are not able to surgically have the cancer removed for a variety of reasons are not curable at this point in time," said Dr. Yuri Fesko, an oncologist at Duke Raleigh Hospital.

Another problem, Fesko said, is that lung tumors are often resistant to chemotherapy drugs.

An ongoing clinical trial at Duke is studying patients’ genetic profile to help them circumvent the often long hit-and-miss process of finding the right chemotherapy drug. The study also aims to predict the intensity of drugs that patients will need based on the actual cancer tissue in their lungs.

Other studies are looking at better ways to screen those at highest risk for lung cancer, such as smokers. That group makes up 90 percent of lung-cancer cases.

The best prevention is to help smokers kick the habit and to broaden work-place smoking bans, Fesko said.

Shakal's wife, Pat, said non-smokers, also need to be aware.

"I think it's very important. I did lose a cousin at age 38 to lung cancer who never smoked," Pat Shakal said.

Lung cancer awareness is a personal mission for the couple. Steve Shakal is a charter member of North Carolinians Against Lung Cancer, a group of survivors and health-care professionals. The nonprofit is working to increase awareness about the disease and raise funds for early detection and treatment.

"Fortunately, I'm still here and can do something about it, and I mean to do something about it," Steve Shakal said.

North Carolinians Against Lung Cancer has planned a Free to Breathe 5K Run/Walk & Rally at Ravenscroft School in Raleigh on Saturday, Nov. 3.

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  • djofraleigh Nov 4, 2007

    NC_VET gives strong witnesses to stop smoking now.

    Country music stars Porter Wagoner, who just died of lung cancer and Hank Thompson, 82, who just retired due to its effects, are bringing renewed attention to lung cancer.

    I point my finger at our own government who is profiting from the taxes on cigarettes that it continues to allow to be sold, yet does little to pay the way for smokers to quit the habit. And if I point at the government, I point at myself and every other citizen for our taking so much profit from smokers at the same time we revile smokers, look down on smokers, pity them. The congress is even now trying to make smokers pay for heath care of others, while once again leaving out smokers, not funding withdrawal enough, not funding research enough, and not acknowledging its own liability over the years for so many soldiers getting the habit, so much resistance to revealing the truth about smoking hazards, and then abusing the money from tobacco on other uses.

  • NC_VET Nov 3, 2007

    I have lung cancer and been fighting it since March 2006 - went
    thorouh chemo and radiation first year and the readiation again
    this year. My wish is I would have stopped smoking earlier in life but used the same excuses, but when I was told I had cancer quit that day and have looked back. So do as I say not as I did - quit and quit today, the life you save will be your
    own.