17th February 2017

Lung cancer research translated!

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After the great response last week’s blog had from our Director of Support Services, we thought we’d ask Lorraine, our Director of Information and Support, to put pen to paper too (or fingers to keyboard) and share her experience from last month’s Annual British Thoracic Oncology Group (BTOG) Conference.

Every year around 800 people involved in lung cancer and mesothelioma care in the UK and Ireland meet in Dublin. The two-day conference offers scientists, researchers, clinicians and patient advocates the opportunity to share new research; reflect on progress in treatment and debate the big issues. As a Director for the charity, this is my annual immersion in all things new in lung cancer and a valued educational event.

For many people affected by lung cancer, the clinical and research worlds may feel as distant as Tolkein’s Middle Earth. Part of the role of my team is to try and make sense and translate that world into the reality of treatment options, ways of looking after yourself and what you can expect from lung cancer services now and in the near future.

The fringe Advocacy meeting was opened by the BTOG Chair, Dr Sanjay Popat. It saw a good exchange of views from all attending. A great layperson’s briefing on x-ray imaging was provided by Mat Callister Respiratory physician. BTOG are keen to strengthen the patient voice in its work, anyone interested in attending in 2018 should mark the 24th January in their diary.

The meeting saw the launch of the latest updates on how we are doing on lung cancer in the UK. This audit looks at 43,343 people diagnosed in 2015. Interestingly, the report shows an increase in the average age of diagnosis. An increasing proportion of people are being diagnosed in their 70s and 80s, perhaps reflecting our ageing population and the influence of changing relationship with tobacco over the last 60 years. Positive changes in the report include the 7% improvement in one-year survival in the last 5 years and that 60% of people are now receiving some anti-cancer treatment, up by 2%.

Some interesting issues around side effects and impact of lung cancer were covered in the conference. A seminar on bone health highlighted the fact that many people with lung cancer will develop secondary (metastatic) cancer in their bones and we need to be aware of bone health and changes. Discussion on the benefits of exercise, the current fashion for “prehabilitation” – encouraging people to undertake health improvement activity before and during treatment was highlighted.

An inspirational talk was given by Mike Daube, Professor of Health Policy from Perth, Western Australian. He highlighted the impact of tobacco control, pioneering work on plain packaging and commitment to getting the smoking rate to 5% or less by 2025.

Early detection and screening was understandably a big theme. Updates were provided on progress on the European Nelson Trial, which is hoped will provide the evidence of lives saved that would influence any plan for a UK screening programme. (Click here to read about our Lung Cancer Screening Project).

Some innovative practice such as lung biopsy without hospital admission, tumour genotyping and the impact of new immunotherapies were also discussed.

A key aspect of the conference is coverage of current research trials in the UK. Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation funds early diagnosis and patient experience research. The NCRI is a good source of information on current trials. We often find patients and carers are keen to know what trials are open in lung cancer and there is a need to increase the proportion of people participating in trials.

Small cell lung cancer was discussed in final session, covering study on twice daily radiotherapy and the slow progress made to improve early diagnosis and outcomes. The audit indicates that the proportion of people being diagnosed with small cell lung cancer is declining, work continues to research and identify new and more effective treatment options.

Lung cancer can feel like “the cinderella cancer”, as it was christened by our founder Professor Ray Donnelly. Having spent a few days immersed in the BTOG Conference, I would say the atmosphere amongst health care professionals, researchers and support organisations is one of determination – determination to make improvements in treatment and care and an openness to work together with all those with who care and are affected by this disease. It feels like our time for transformation is close.