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Walter Reed Bethesda promotes lung cancer awareness through World Lung Cancer Day

08/11/2017

AJ Simmons

WRNMMC Command Communications

Walter Reed National Military Medical Center recognized World Lung Cancer Day Aug. 1. The day aims to raise awareness and educate service members and their families of the threat of lung cancer.
“The big thing about World Lung Cancer day is really bringing awareness to this disease,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. (Dr.) Karen Zeman, a hematology oncologist at WRNMMC and a member of the thoracic oncology team. “My job in the thoracic oncology team, specifically, is to take care of patients who have cancer—particularly those who have lung cancer. We take them from the point of diagnosis through treatment and support them throughout their care.”
Zeman explained that there are two important considerations when educating patients and civilians on the risks of lung cancer: “First, it’s the No. 1 killer [of all cancers]. Second, while it’s the number one killer, it’s not hopeless.” She elaborated that the advancements in research, procedures, surgery and medicine are constantly improving the treatment methods and prognoses of patients.
Zeman pointed out that surgeries and biopsy methods have improved over the years, saying, “These patients who frequently aren’t healthy enough for surgery are able to get tissue diagnosis and staging.”
Zeman stressed that, despite the continuous advancement of surgeries and treatments, the most important steps to preventing and fighting lung cancer pertain to awareness. First and foremost, she explained, is the cessation of tobacco use.  “The vast majority of lung cancer is associated with tobacco use. So tobacco cessation is the biggest thing.”
She continued that the next crucial step in prevention is screening: “We need to make sure patients are sent for screening. That is ginormous. If we can get people early, if we can get people when we can surgically treat them or we can give them chemotherapy and radiation and we can give them curative therapy to get rid of the cancer, we can give them their best chance for long-term survival.”
Zeman also noted that having a strong support system is one of the most important pieces to a well-rounded treatment process, saying, “Having a good support system or supporting your family members or friends helps a lot. Whether it’s transporting them to and from their chemotherapy appointments or helping to arrange the days when they can’t make it—all those things help.”
According to the National Cancer Institute, there were roughly 222,500 new cases and an estimated 527,228 people living with lung cancer in the United States. The institute explains on its webpage that approximately 6.4 percent of men and women will be diagnosed with lung and bronchus cancer in their lifetime.
However, Zeman explained that she is optimistic for the future of cancer treatment. She said that one of the most encouraging developments in the fight against lung cancer has been the continued research and application of immunotherapies. These treatments help the immune system to identify tumors and abnormal cells in order to destroy them.
“With the immunotherapy, [the immediate goal] is really to better understand the immune system. The reason why immunotherapy is so exciting is that chemotherapy can only do so much,” said Zeman. She explained that the work of lung cancer research moving forward will include clinical trials to determine how best to apply or combine immunotherapy and chemotherapy to most effectively treat patients.
World Lung Cancer Day is not the only event intended to educate and raise awareness regarding lung cancer. The Murtha Cancer Center at WRNMMC will host its annual Lung Cancer Summit and Awareness Day on Nov. 3. According to Zeman, the morning half of the event will be dedicated to education and exploration of the active research being done on lung cancer while the afternoon will be dedicated to the education and recognition of patients and lung cancer survivors.
For more information on the work of the Murtha Cancer Center at WRNMMC or to schedule an appointment for a screening, go to www.wrnmmc.capmed.mil.