Dr. Peters is an Australian Thoracic Physician by training with a passion for the prevention and better treatment of lung cancer and for improvement in the care and support of people living with lung cancer. He is Chair of the Global Lung Cancer Coalition, an international alliance of charities that share the same aims. Dr. Peters received his MD qualification from Sydney University in 1991. He then moved on to become Senior Staff Specialist and Head of Thoracic Medicine Department at the Concord Repatriation General Hospital in Sydney, Australia. Dr. Peters is also Professor of Respiratory Medicine at the Australian School of Advanced Medicine at Macquarie University.
As a physician and patient advocate for more than 15 years, it is exciting to see the great advances we are making in lung cancer research. We have expanded our knowledge of cancer exponentially, and this is particularly true in lung cancer as we have revolutionized our approaches to treatment. Patients are now living longer, which means they are now able to advocate for themselves. But make no mistake, there is still much work to be done.
For many years, lung cancer wasn’t a major focus of cancer research efforts and nothing predicts lack of success like a lack of effort. Research started in the 1950s didn’t yield the results people were looking for and so the attention shifted to prevention. While prevention is incredibly important, it doesn’t end all lung cancer on its own or advance treatment. But within the last 10 years there has been a renewed interest in funding lung cancer research. Now we’re seeing advances in Immuno-Oncology, using a patient’s own immune system to fight the cancer. It’s a renaissance for lung cancer treatment.
While we are making tremendous strides in developing treatments, there are still unmet needs for lung cancer patients. We can’t quit because we’ve made great progress, we need to build on that progress and continue raising the bar for better outcomes. Although an increasing number of patients are getting increasingly individualized treatment, the majority are not. We need to facilitate bringing cutting-edge therapies to more patients with lung cancer.
Importantly, we need to keep our focus on moving forward. With new research and new therapies, we have been able to prolong survival for lung cancer patients from just a few months to a few years. The advances should not be underestimated, but we need to move beyond this incremental benefit for the patients. This is where the role of patient advocacy groups’ is crucial. We can show a more complete picture of the patient experience to build a deeper understanding of why the progress we’ve made so far isn’t ‘mission accomplished’. Patients want to live a full and vibrant life; a few years added to a young life is an achievement but not nearly enough. We need to keep pushing the boundaries.
Extending life expectancy and improving quality of life is one part of that equation but the other part is holistically improving patient care. One innovative way I’ve seen this achieved is by having lung cancer nurses fully integrated into lung cancer care teams. In the presence of lung cancer specialist nurses, clinical care becomes closer to best evidence-based practice and patients report improved quality of life1. Patients tend to feel very comfortable with contacting a lung cancer nurse to pose an important question, at any time, whereas they are disinclined to trouble their doctor.
I believe patient advocacy is a powerful way to emphasize the need to advance treatment and improve quality of care. Congresses are so important because they allow patients to be heard by researchers, health-care professionals and industry alike. At the early lung cancer meetings there were many small underpowered studies presented, but this is changing. With more patients adding their voice to the debate, there is also an increase in innovative treatments such as, Immuno-Oncology for lung cancer. It’s not a coincidence that these two rise together, more patient advocacy leads to better treatment.
Lung cancer treatment has advanced tremendously within the past 10 years, but the work is far from over. I will continue to do my part to push for better care, better treatments and new research. It is not reaching what we can but seeking to reach what we cannot.
1. Tod A, et al. “Lung cancer treatment rates and the role of the lung cancer nurse specialist: a qualitative study” BMJ Open 2015;5:e008587. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2015-008587