Age no barrier to lung cancer survival but late diagnosis kills, says QLD study
Australia’s older citizens are receiving a clear message from health professionals today: Don’t ignore the signs of lung cancer. Your age won’t impair your chances of survival, but waiting too long to see your doctor will.
The message is supported by new Australian research establishing no correlation between age and lung cancer survival outcomes. The research was presented at the Australian Lung Cancer Conference in Sydney, where over 400 health professionals gathered to exchange latest research and best practice.
“Early diagnosis of lung cancer is critical to better outcomes. This research reinforces just how important it is that people are aware of the symptoms of lung cancer and take early action,” said Heather Allan, CEO of Lung Foundation Australia, the hosts of the conference.
The study – a collaboration between Pathology Queensland, University of the Sunshine Coast, Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service and Cancer Second Opinion – involved the creation of a comprehensive data base of lung cancer cases. Analysis of over 1000 patient records found no clear link between age and survival outcomes.
Early stage diagnosis, however, was clearly associated with better overall prognosis. Survival rates are more than four times higher with stage 1 diagnosis (the earliest point of detection) than stage 4 (the most advanced stage).
The average age of diagnosis was 69 years.
The study is of particular interest as South East Queensland is home to some of the oldest demographic in Australia, and may provide insight into the aging lung cancer population of the future.
“Our study shows that it doesn’t matter whether you’re 70 or whether you’re 40, getting diagnosed early is what counts,” said lead researcher and biomedical research scientist Thys Matthews.
There are many reasons why older Australians may be reluctant to get diagnosed. They may not be aware of cancer symptoms; they may fear they’re too old to tolerate gruelling regimes; or they may struggle to reach services. A recent study by Lung Foundation Australia highlighted the stigma attached to lung cancer because of its association with smoking, and this is believed to have a significant deterrent effect on health seeking behaviour.
But advocates and health professionals urge those with known lung cancer risks or symptoms to be proactive in seeking diagnosis, and say treatments for lung cancer are rapidly evolving.
“With the right treatment and care, it’s possible for people diagnosed at 65 years or older to live for years with lung cancer,” said Ms Allan. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re a smoker or a non-smoker, still in work or enjoying your retirement, you deserve your health. So if you are breathless, have chest pain or neck pain, a persistent cough, or have a history of smoking, speak to your doctor,” she said.
The message is reiterated by lung cancer survivor and patient advocate Marilyn Nelson.
“Getting diagnosed with lung cancer is terrifying. But burying our heads in the sand won’t make it go away. The fact that I’m standing here today – almost five years after being diagnosed – is proof that you can survive. I love my life – my time with family and friends – and I wouldn’t give up a day of it. I urge you: don’t sit; don’t wait. You’re never too old to come forward for treatment. “
Lung cancer and age facts
- Lung cancer mostly affects people 65-74 years of age. As the senior population increases in the world, lung cancer continues to be an important public health issue today and in the future.
- For most patients, age does not affect how a person responds to treatment. Studies performed on senior patients with various malignancies show that older patients benefit from chemotherapy to a similar extent as younger patients, with manageable side-effects.
- Senior patients are sometimes reluctant to have surgery for lung cancer because they mistakenly believe the risk outweighs the benefits. But studies show that older patients who receive surgery usually survive their lung cancer for more than five years and are more likely to die from a non-cancer-related cause.
Lung cancer facts
- Around 12,500 Australians were diagnosed with lung cancer in 2017 – that’s 34 people every day.
- One Australian dies every hour, making lung cancer the leading cause of cancer death in Australia; more than breast and prostate cancers combined.
- Lung cancer has one of the lowest survival rates of any cancer in Australia; just 15 percent of Australians are alive five years after their diagnosis.
- Lung cancer can affect anyone, not just smokers. One in three women diagnosed with lung cancer and one in 10 men have no history of smoking.
- There is no regular screening test, and symptoms of lung cancer may go unnoticed by those living with the disease.
- Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is the most common type of lung cancer, accounting for almost nine in 10 cases.
The Australian Lung Cancer Conference provides lung cancer education for health professionals. Held biannually, the ALCC now draws 400 health professionals both nationally and internationally. The 2018 Conference was held in Sydney from the 5-7th April. Program highlights include:
- Octogenerians to Immunotherapy – The changing face of lung cancer
- Smoking predictions for the future
- The evolving demographics of lung cancer in Australia
- Keynote Speaker: Professor Thomas Lynch, who was part of the team credited with the significant discovery that certain genetic mutations in lung cancer patients caused therapies to work for some individuals and not for others
About Lung Foundation Australia
Lung Foundation Australia is the only national charity dedicated to supporting anyone with a lung disease. We are a national first point-of-call for patients, their families, carers, health professionals and the general community.