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Lung cancer is the commonest tumor with the largest mortality among all cancers. Unfortunately, lung cancer studies were not receiving sufficient attention in recent years. Major change of attitude and better funding needed to improve the situation.

Recent article published in the Annals of Oncology summarizes European cancer statistics for the last 40 years and makes trend projection for several years ahead. The data show that cancer mortality is slowly but surely decreasing for the majority of cancers affecting both males and females.

There is one notable exception, however. The mortality from lung cancer is still staying at an exceptionally high level. Even despite significant decline in recent years, the disease remains a leading cause of cancer related deaths among men. In contrast with males’ statistics, lung cancer is on the rise among women and likely to become the most common type of malignancies among them in the next few years. Currently this place is occupied by breast cancer. It would be reasonable to ask why, despite billions of dollars invested in cancer research, lung cancer is still such a threat?

Why lung cancer mortality is so high?

There are several factors contributing to the stubbornly high mortality from lung cancer.

The disease tends to develop quickly. Early diagnosis of lung cancer is, however, problematic. Disease stays asymptomatic in the beginning and usually gets discovered at later stages when therapeutic intervention is not very efficient anymore. Lung cancer stands a good chance of successful treatment if it is identified at stage I of its development. This, however, can be reliably achieved only with the use of regular CT scans, an expensive and complicated technique.

Early detection tests based on easily identified molecular markers of lung cancer still wait to be developed. Molecular diagnostics in recent years plays an increasing role in early detection of other cancers. For instance, introduction of routine blood tests for general screening purposes was a game changer in prostate cancer. Unfortunately, no reliable molecular marker for lung cancer was found so far.

Another problem is the lack of good lung cancer-specific drugs. Lung cancer chemotherapy relies on the use of classic aggressive agents targeting any fast dividing cells. The agents cause multiple side effects which limit the extent of their usefulness. Many other cancer types can now be treated with newer drugs that have more targeted action. In the case of lung cancer, the targeted therapeutics only started to emerge recently, and they are still not very effective. In addition, most of them are so expensive that many national health services refuse to approve them for general treatment arguing that these drugs are simply not cost-effective.

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