On Saturday November 16, the Columbia University Department of Surgery will be hosting Lung Cancer Awareness Day at the medical center campus in Washington Heights. To learn more about this program we spoke with Joshua R. Sonett, MD, Section Chief, General Thoracic Surgery, who will be speaking at this event.
Question: This is the first ever Lung Cancer Awareness Day for the Department of Surgery. What was the reason for creating this?
Joshua Sonett: Lung cancer is sometimes referred to as the forgotten cancer probably due to its association with smoking. While it is true that 80% to 90% of lung cancer cases are attributed to smoking, there are other causes such as exposure to asbestos, radon gas, and even pollution. Genetics also play a role in lung cancer. Someone who has never smoked can develop the disease.
Nobody wants to get cancer and regardless of cause, we must remember treat these patients with compassion and respect. Lung cancer is also the most common cancer in the U.S so it’s important to provide education on this disease
Q: What will be discussed at Lung Cancer Awareness Day?
JS: In addition to screening and prevention there will be a discussion on the impact of lung cancer to our society and a debate on the merits and risks of available treatment options.
The day will wrap up with the personal story of a young man who was diagnosed and cured of lung cancer and then went on to become an advocate for using personalized medicine to treat the disease.
Q: Is the occurrence of lung cancer decreasing?
JS: Lung cancer caused by smoking is decreasing. This is probably due to the outreach and educational efforts taking place today. Yet, the new cases of lung cancer attributed to non-smoking are increasing and the reasons for this are unknown. Lung cancer is curable in most cases, but there are still aspects of the disease we do not understand. This is why awareness days like this are needed and beneficial to both the medical community and public.
Q: Will information on smoking cessation be provided?
JS: Lung Cancer Awareness Day will focus on the medical and surgical aspects of lung cancer. Cessation involves addiction and psychology and more than surgical or medical expertise. For that reason it will not be a central topic. Anyone who is interested in learning about cessation can visit http://smokefree.gov.
Q: Will you be addressing questions about e-cigarettes during the awareness day? For instance, are e-cigarettes safe?
JS: Again due to our medical and surgical focus, e-cigarettes will not be a topic of discussion at Lung Cancer Awareness Day.
As a side comment, the scientific community is inconclusive in their studies on e-cigarettes, much as they were with tobacco. It took over 50 years for the scientific community to determine that cigarettes were unsafe. Yet, I still cannot imagine that e-cigarettes are an activity that anyone should start.
Q: Will personalized medicine be discussed at the Lung Cancer Awareness Day?
JS: Yes, personalized medicine is a topic growing in importance that will be covered by my colleague Balazs Halmos, MD. (For a brief overview of the use in personalized medicine in the treatment of lung cancer, please see this video that Dr. Sonett created at the beginning of this year.)
Q: Can you tell us about the patient who will be speaking at Lung Cancer Awareness Day?
JS: Our planned patient speaker is a very interesting and compelling young man who has made himself into a well-known advocate of using personalized medicine for the treatment of lung cancer. Against steep odds, he has successfully fought his diagnosis and is doing very well.
Q: What would you say to someone who has just been diagnosed with lung cancer?
JS: Lung cancer is cured every day regardless of the stage it is in when found. So there is always hope. It’s important to accept a lung cancer diagnosis in a positive and constructive manner with a mindset of being cured.
Q: Who would benefit from attending Lung Cancer Awareness Day?
JS: This will be a casual event with time for one-on-one discussion and an opportunity to speak with experts. So Lung Cancer Awareness Day would be of interest to anyone who is affected by lung cancer. Clinicians who treat lung cancer patients could also benefit from hearing about the research efforts taking place at a research institution like Columbia.