Category Archives: Lung disease

New drug uses body’s own immune system to fight lung cancer

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An interesting story from NBC News. A new drug, called Keytruda, can apparently use the body’s own immune system among some patients to fight both lung cancer and melanoma.

According to the NBC News article:

Garon’s team tested Keytruda in 495 lung cancer patients. The drug targets mutations in genes called PD-1 and PD-L1. These mutations let some tumors escape detection and destruction by immune system cells that normally prevent cancer from spreading in the body. … It worked in about 19 percent of the patients,

Before you think 19 percent is a petty amount — keep in mind lung cancer is the No. 1 cancer killer in the world. In the U.S., about 224,000 people a year get lung cancer. 19 percent of 224,000 is 43,000 people … a year … in the U.S. alone.

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Currently, about 160,000 people a year die of lung cancer each year. We’re talking about potentially cutting that number by 25 percent if this drug works as well as promised.

From the NBC story:

Most of the patients helped by Keytruda saw their cancer stop growing for about an average of a year, and some still haven’t had the cancer come back, Garon’s team said in their report, which was also published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

About a quarter of the lung cancer patients in the trial had a mutation in PD-L1, and the people helped most by the drug were more likely to have the mutation, the researchers found.

The drug, known generically as pembrolizumab, caused many side-effects, such as fatigue and rash. But so does chemotherapy for lung cancer.

Hope760

In a second study, researchers compared Keytruda to another immunotherapy drug called Yervoy in 830 patients with melanoma.

After a year, 74 percent of patients who received Keytruda every two weeks were alive. This dropped to 68 of those dosed every three weeks. To compare, 58 percent of patients who got Yervoy lived a year or longer, researchers reported.

It’s not a cure. Another one of many, many baby steps toward a cure to the Plague of the 20th Century.

New lungs grown in a lab — cure for COPD someday?

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An interesting and slightly bizarre story last week (behind a bit on this one, meant to post about it, then forgot).

Scientists, using stem cells, successfully grew a pair of human lungs, using one “stripped down” lung of collagen as a “scaffold.” They then painted the scaffold with cells from another lung (these lungs were harvested from children who likely were killed in a traffic accident), and grew a functioning lung.

“In terms of different cell types, the lung is probably the most complex of all organs – the cells near the entrance are very different from those deep in the lung,” UTMB researcher Dr. Joaquin Cortiella said.

“People ask us why we’re doing the lung, because it’s so hard. But the potential is so great, and the technology is here. It’s going to take time, but I think we’re going to create a system that works.”

This story specifically mentions that perhaps lungs can be grown for people with cystic fibrosis or COPD, but that transplants using grown lungs might be as far as 12 years away because of the need for considerable more testing (such as transplanting grown lungs in the bodies of animals to make sure they function.)

Exciting news. Slightly weird, but exciting.

 

Leonard Nimoy announces he has COPD

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Leonard Nimoy announced yesterday he has COPD and put out a statement urging people to please quit smoking. Here is a more lengthy CNN article.

Nimoy, sent out a tweet: “I quit smoking 30 yrs ago. Not soon enough. I have COPD. Grandpa says, quit now!! LLAP (Live Long and Prosper, obviously)”

Part of the deviousness of smoking … even if you quit, the damage it does can come back to haunt you decades later. It’s heartbreaking that someone does the right thing … and still develops lung diseases years later. The best way to avoid that damage is to never start smoking to begin with.

Leonard Nimoy says he is feeling OK, but just cannot walk long distances. He issued his announcement after he was seen at an airport being pushed in a wheelchair and with a breathing tube. I know from personal experience they can do a lot to repair the damage done by COPD; they can’t cure it or make it go away, but they can get the lungs functioning better with various medications; I wish Nimoy the best.

CNN: Nine powerful stories of smokers’ last cigarettes

Awesome, poignant article by CNN.com.

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For the Great American Smokeout last week, CNN.com interviewed 9 former smokers about their final cigarette. Most every ex-smoker can remember their last cigarette, when they finally had had enough and quashed one out for the final time. Most smokers can remember their last cigarette because it usually takes three, four or even more tries to quit, and when the day comes that quitting finally works is a big event in their lives.

So, CNN collected some awesome quotes from these nine people, citing everything from existentialism to their families as reasons for quitting. Let me share some of them:

A fellow workmate made a profound statement to me: ‘You know, Bob, there is never a good day to quit smoking, is there?’ That hit me like a ton of bricks.

— Bob Miller, last cigarette: April 1, 2006

*****

Now, when I feel that urge, I think about two small faces, and how I’d answer them if they asked me why I was sick or why I was dying. I’d have no one to blame but myself.

— Beth Woods, last cigarette, Aug. 5, 2008

*****

I remember a trip to the ER with a bad case of bronchitis. This was the first time that my husband had seen me that sick. The look of panic and helplessness convinced me that I had to stop.

— Lisa Gonsalves, last cigarette 2005

Gonsalves’ bronchitis was so severe, she had to have tubes inserted into her lungs to drain the fluid and her chest “cracked open” to clean out her lungs.

“I can’t say that I don’t crave it – especially when I am stressed out,” Gonsalves told CNN.com. “I do have to constantly remind myself of the pain and the feeling of drowning because I couldn’t breathe to keep me from running out and getting a pack. It is a very mental game I play every day but I get stronger and stronger every day without a cigarette.”

*****

When I smoked my last one, it was more of a release, rather than freaking out about how I was going to deal with it.

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— John Turner, last cigarette 2011

*****

My wife got the news she was finally pregnant. The very moment she told me I crushed my pack of cigarettes up and threw them away.

— Martin C. Grube, last cigarette 1983.

*****

Then the story of Kara Wethington, who quit after her 66-year-old grandmother died.

“I loved smoking. The social aspect of it, the taste of it, the way it made me feel — everything about it was romantic to me.”

But the death of her grandmother was the “straw that broke the camel’s back” soon after Wethington herself was diagnosed with an aggressive form of strep throat, and she hasn’t looked back for 13 years.

“I’ve had smoking dreams that felt so intimately real that the line of reality and fantasy blurred out my memory. I know I didn’t smoke but sometimes those dreams feel really good and sometimes with real regret.”

(Interesting, I never heard of this dreaming of smoking before, but another ex-smoker said the same thing.

“It took me years to stop dreaming about having a cigarette and sometimes I would wake up and not be sure if I had smoked.”

— Linda Parker

The stigma of lung cancer — do smokers “deserve” lung cancer? (No!)

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A very interesting opinion piece that I can personally relate to, about the continuing stigma of lung cancer.

I have on a number of occasions no matter how incredibly hard I try to bend over backward to not attack smokers or act superior to smokers either online or in real life, been accused of being down on smokers. I think part of this is because many smokers deep down inside put up with constant stigma over their smoking and frankly, get understandably defensive about it, because hey, we all have some bad habits and none of us are perfect.

Anyway, that stigma also applies to lung cancer. Lung cancer is the most deadly form of cancer; more people die of lung cancer in the U.S. than the next four types of cancer — combined. Smoking is in fact the primary cause of lung cancer — about 85 percent of the people who get lung cancer are either smokers or former smokers.

But, that also means that 15 percent of those people with lung cancer are nonsmokers (20 percent of women who get lung cancer are nonsmokers). Lung cancer not only has an environmental component, it has a genetic component. There is a reason why only 10 percent of smokers die of lung cancer. It’s bad luck+a bad habit.

Dr. Lecia V. Sequist, (a medical oncologist at  Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, an associate professor of medicine Harvard Medical School. and a member of the LUNGevity Foundation Scientific Advisory Board), writes on CNN.com, about the stigma of lung cancer and the mentality of that people who die of lung cancer “did it to themselves.” The stigma has resulted in a lot of grant monies and donations going toward finding cures for cancers other than lung cancer.

It’s something I can relate to because I have been very guilty of hearing about someone dying of lung cancer, and then immediately blurting out, “were they a smoker?” I really, really try not to do that anymore.

Dr. Sequist writes:

Tell a friend or colleague that your aunt just found out she has lung cancer. Almost always the response will be, “Did she smoke?” Then tell someone else that your aunt just found out she has breast cancer, or colon cancer, or any other type of cancer you can think of. This time the response will be pure sympathy, without any blame attached.

I don’t think people necessarily do this for a bad reason. I think it’s a normal reaction of “well it couldn’t happen to me … I don’t smoke.”

This is interesting, according to to Dr. Sequist, (and I have never seen these numbers before and am still digesting them) 60 percent of new lung cancer cases are among nonsmokers and former smokers — not current smokers. Wow, that a high number (remember that 15 percent number I quoted earlier). What that tells me is a lot of people are acknowledging that smoking is really bad for them, quitting, and then 10 years later being diagnosed with lung cancer. That is one of the cruelties of lung cancer. Even if you do the right thing and quit, your risk of lung cancer decreases … but it is still higher than a person who never smoked.

And as far as how smoking is affecting funding, this paragraph from Dr. Sequist:

Unfortunately, the stigma associated with lung cancer has translated to a massive inequality in research funding. When analyzing the combined 2012 cancer research dollars granted by federal organizations, for every woman who dies of breast cancer, more than $26,000 in federal research funding is devoted to breast cancer research. But for every woman who dies of lung cancer, just over $1,000 federal dollars are invested. The difference is staggering.

So, basically breast cancer is receiving 26 times more funding per cancer case than lung cancer among women. Wow.

As far as the attitude that people who smoke and die and lung cancer getting what they deserve, all I can say is how is your glass house? Are you overweight? Do you drink? Smoke pot? Take prescription drugs? Last perfect person died 2,000 years ago. (Even on this article, there is some snot-nosed troll spending hours pissing on smokers with lung cancer. One of the reasons I don’t comment on CNN stories.)

I watched my dad slowly drown in his own bodily fluids at the age of 49. I can’t imagine a worse way to go, honestly. No one deserves that. No one. Not Adolph Hitler, not anyone. So, no, no one “deserves” lung cancer.

The lung cancer and nicotine genes

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Yesterday I mentioned the “lung cancer gene.” This is interesting stuff to me, and exciting for a potential cure to lung cancer, the No. 1 cancer killer.

Several years ago, researchers isolated a gene mutation that appears to mark whether you are at risk for lung cancer.

One of the most exasperating arguments I’ve ever had with smokers, both in real life and online, is “if smoking causes lung cancer than why don’t all smokers get lung cancer?”

It’s a weak excuse to keep smoking. I remember having that very argument with my mom 30 years ago when my dad died of lung cancer. But, they’re right in that only about 10 percent of smokers ever develop lung cancer. This lung cancer gene mutation could explain why and many other things.

Here’s how it works, keep in mind that 15 percent of the people who get lung cancer (and 20 percent of women who get lung cancer), never smoked a cigarette in their lives. Why do some nonsmokers get lung cancer and most smokers don’t?

It’s been long known that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer by literally screwing up the DNA of the cells in the smoker’s lungs. Why do 10 percent of smokers have their DNA messed up and not all smokers?

In 2008, it was announced that there appeared to be a genetic mutation behind lung cancer. If you have this genetic mutation, you are at increased risk to lung cancer even if you are a non-smoker. I’ve read that your risk is something like 30 to 80 percent higher than a nonsmoker without the gene.

If you have this genetic mutation and you smoke, you are at extreme risk for lung cancer. One article I read long ago (can’t find it now), suggested that your odds of getting lung cancer are 50-50.

If you do not have this mutation, smoke ’em if you got ’em, because you will likely NEVER develop lung cancer … however, this gene mutation has no effect on your chances of getting COPD or heart disease or other kinds of cancer from smoking. So, really, you’re just dodging one out of a potentially large number of bullets.

If you do not have this mutation and do not smoke, your chances of ever getting lung cancer are astronomically low. Unless you’re breathing radioactive isotopes, you don’t even need to worry about it. You’re probably more at risk for being hit by lightning.

This gene might also have something to do with why marijuana smokers do not appear to be at increased risk for lung cancer while cigarette smokers are.

This is where the genetic issue gets even trippier. Not only does there appear to be a gene that makes certain people more susceptible to lung cancer, there also appears to be a gene that also makes some people more susceptible to addiction to nicotine. That could explain why some people can quit smoking while others cannot. It really has nothing to do with willpower. Some extremely strong-willed people simply cannot kick the nicotine, while others can do it and never look back. It might be genetic.  What’s really weird are studies suggesting that the same gene mutation might be responsible for both increasing the risk of lung cancer and the susceptibility to nicotine addiction. Trippy stuff.

How people evolved with these genetic markers triggered by tobacco is beyond me. Tobacco in its current form didn’t even exist until perhaps 150 to 200 years ago. What the North American Indians smoked thousands of years ago is nothing like the tobacco grown today. It’s a mystery.

Anyway, the other exciting part of this is perhaps one day lung cancer will be treated via gene therapy. Already, in this day and age, if you want to pay the money, you can have a gene test done to see if you have this gene mutation. The down side to such a test is maybe some people will say, “hooray, I can smoke all I want now…” which would be a dumb response to such a test. Like I said earlier, you could still lose years off your life through COPD and heart disease by smoking.

Another exciting development of this discovery is scientists are working on a drug to block the gene mutation before it ever develops into cancer.

Pot smoking doesn’t cause lung disease: The lung cancer gene, part 1

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A study that came out last month determined that occasional post smoking doesn’t cause near the damage to lungs as cigarette smoking.

The study followed 5,115 regular pot smokers over the course of 20 years.

This reminds me very much of a study done about 5 years ago showing that even chronic pot use doesn’t appear to lead to an increased risk of lung cancer.

“We hypothesized that there would be a positive association between marijuana use and lung cancer, and that the association would be more positive with heavier use,” the study’s lead researcher, Dr.Donald Tashkin of the University of California at Los Angeles stated. “What we found instead was no association at all, and even a suggestion of some protective effect” among marijuana smokers who had lower incidences of cancer compared to non-users.

So what’s going on here? Why is tobacco smoke so unhealthy and pot smoke apparently does minimal damage (though the article does point out that some studies have shown an increase in bronchitis and chronic coughs in pot smokers).

In any case, every major study on the issue has consistently shown that pot is considerably less dangerous to the lungs and heart than tobacco (not getting into whatever cognative damage chronic pot use might cause. When it comes to lung and heart, tobacco is far, far, far worse). Not to mention the difference of physical addiction between nicotine and THC. I quit smoking dope 20 years ago and it was the easiest thing I’ve ever done. No night sweats, no cravings, nothing. Why one continues to be illegal and the other legal continues to mystify me. And there doesn’t appear to be a lot of political will out there for legalizing dope.

Pot smoke actually has some of the same toxins as cigarette smoke, but in different doses. One theory is that additives in cigarette smoke are making cigarettes so deadly, but I’m dubious of that one. People were dying of smoking in the 1930s long before the tobacco companies were pumping additives into their tobacco. Another theory is that tobacco smoke is ingested more deeply, but I’m dubious of that one, too, because pot smoke is ingested pretty deeply into the lungs.

I have a theory that lung cancer (forgetting for a bit the heart damage and COPD that smoking causes) is both a genetic and environmental disease, which could be one big reason tobacco smoking causes so much lung cancer while pot smoking doesn’t. There’s been a lot of really interesting and exciting information that has come out about the genetic component of lung cancer the last few years. I’ll write about that in part two tomorrow.

Vaclav Havel, victim of smoking and lung disease

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This is a catching up story. I actually have been meaning to post something about this for a couple of weeks.

Last month, Vaclav Havel, the first Democratically elected president of Czechoslovakia (and the Czech Republic, for that matter) and the father of the 1989 Velvet Revolution that freed Czechosolovakia from Communism.

Overlooked somewhat in the news Victor Havel’s death a few weeks ago is that he died from smoking. Havel, who led the Velvet Revolution that freed Czechoslovakia from Communism, will go down in the history as one of the great champions of Democracy in Europe. I can’t help but notice the irony that this guy had the cajones to stare down the fucking Soviet Union, but wasn’t able to break his addiction to nicotine. He had two surgeries to remove tumours from his lungs a few years ago. Ultimately, he died of COPD.

Havel was 75 and had suffered for years from chronic respiratory ailments. He was a notorious chain smoker, common in Eastern Europe still to this day.

Havel spent years in prison and was the first president of Czechoslovakia and oversaw the peaceful split between the Czech Republican and Slovakia. One of the great leaders of the late 20th Century, taken too young by lung disease and tobacco. He was a great man.

New study: Cancer death rates in America dropping dramatically!

Great, great news.

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According to a new study released by the American Cancer Society, cancer death rates have dropped drastically over the past 20 years — 23 percent for men, and 15 percent for women.

Two big reasons — better screening and treatment, and a third reason obviously — a LOT fewer people smoking (Down from 50 to 60 percent in the 1960s to 20 percent today).

Get this, 40 percent of the overall decline in cancer deaths among men (and 34 percent among women) is caused specifically by the decline just in lung cancer deaths (Lung cancer is by far the biggest cancer killer — the next four cancer killers — colon, prostate, pancreas and breast cancer, kill fewer people per year than lung cancer alone.)

Still, even in 2012, about one-third of the cancer deaths in America will be caused due to smoking (and 160,000 of the 577,000 estimated cancer deaths in 2012 will be lung cancer, about 28 percent), according to the ACS. Another third will be caused by obesity and poor nutrition.

From the report. Estimated cancer deaths in 2012. I put this here just to illustrate the damage done by tobacco.

Total cancer deaths 2012 estimated: 577,000

1) Lung cancer 160,000 — 28 percent of all cancer deaths (85 percent smokers or former smokers)

2) Colon 51,000

3) Breast 39,000 (suggestions tobacco increases risk)

4) Pancreas 37,000 (Definite links to tobacco, 50 percent smokers or former smokers)

5) Prostate 28,000

6) Leukemia 23,500 (suggestions of tobacco increasing risk of certain kinds of leukemia)

7) Liver 20,500

8) Non-Hodgkin lymphoma 19,000

9) Bladder 15,000 (Definite links to tobacco, 50 percent smokers or former smokers)

10) Esophagus 15,000 (strong links to tobacco)

November is National Lung Cancer Awareness Month and National COPD Awareness Month

November is both National Lung Cancer Awareness Month and National COPD Awareness Month:

Here’s my contribution to raising awareness

Death toll in 2009
All causes 2.4 million
1) Heart disease 600,000
2) Cancer (other than lung cancer) 400,000
3) Lung cancer (28 percent of all cancer deaths) 160,000
4) Respiratory disease (primarily COPD) 130,000
5) Stroke 128,000
6) Accidents 117,000
7) Alzheimer’s 79,000
8 Diabetes 68,000
9) Flu, pneumonia 53,000
11) Suicide 36,000
13) Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis 30,000
15) Parkinson’s disease 20,000
16) Homicide 16,600

√ So, basically 12 percent of the people who died in 2009, died of lung cancer or COPD. 12 percent. Roughly one death out of eight.
√ Lung cancer is 28 percent of all cancer deaths.
√ Lung cancer and COPD in 2009 killed more people than Alzheimer’s, diabetes, the flu, suicide, cirrhosis of the liver and homicide … combined.
√ 85 to 90 percent of the people who died of lung cancer or COPD were smokers or former smokers, which means they are preventable deaths
√ That means about 250,000 deaths could have been avoided
√ 250,000 is about the population of Lincoln, Neb. or Madison, Wis.
√ Did I mention these were preventable deaths?