MedStar Surgeon Responds to New Law Targeting the Most Deadly Cancers

CONGRESS AND WHITE HOUSE FIND COMMON ENEMY: CANCER

February 6, 2013

Washington, D.C., - February 6, 2013 - President Obama has signed into law the very first legislation requiring a comprehensive, national research plan to increase survival rates for the deadliest of cancers. The law requires the director of the National Cancer Institute to develop the framework to target cancers, like lung cancer, that kill more than half of victims.

"This is a critical step toward improving survival," said Keith D. Mortman, MD, director, Thoracic Surgery, MedStar Washington Hospital Center and director, Thoracic Oncology-Washington Cancer Institute. "Lung cancer claims more American lives every year than breast, colorectal and prostate cancers combined."

Dr. Mortman says the new national framework for lung cancer should take a dual-flank approach. First, it should continue to concentrate on education. “Forty million Americans are smokers,” he said. “We must break through to those folks about the perils of smoking, and how they can essentially save themselves.” A study just published in the New England Journal of Medicine found smoking reduces one’s life expectancy by 10 years; and people who quit smoking before the age of 35 can regain almost all of those 10 years. The study also found that even those who quit later in life can still regain some of those “lost years”.

Mortman also recommended improving early detection rates as a priority for lowering lung cancer mortality rates. “Lung cancer has a five-year survival rate of just 15 percent,” he said. “We can change that with more and improved early detection.”

The best procedure currently available for lung cancer screening before symptoms are present is a spiral CT scan. A recent National Institutes of Health study found that high-risk individuals who underwent annual CT screening for three years had a 20 percent reduced risk of dying from lung cancer. MedStar Washington Hospital Center routinely offers CT scans to at-risk patients. Because the scans sometimes detect abnormalities that are not necessarily cancer, Mortman said, the scans are performed and interpreted by a panel of experts.

The new law is a component of the Defense Authorization Act of 2013. The final plan is due back for congressional approval within 18 months.

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