Navigating Both Cancer and a Viral Pandemic Is a Difficult Balancing Act

CURE, CURE® Lung Cancer 2020 Special Issue,

Living with cancer is not dissimilar to the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic is presenting all of us, but living with cancer during this pandemic is a challenge all to itself, a tough balancing act to pull off.

Since COVID-19 first began spreading throughout the United States, we’ve heard from our bloggers and readers that there are similarities between living through a pandemic and living with cancer.

The sudden need to restrict activities and social excursions rings a bell for those who’ve been treated for cancer, but even more disturbing for many are the fear and dread associated with an unseen but looming hazard.

CURE® contributor Jane Biehl described the sentiment well in a recent blog: “The sleepless nights, unremitting fear and uncertain future are happening all over again. Like the novel coronavirus, the ‘big C’ is invisible, unrelenting and always surrounding us.”

As patients navigate both cancer and the pandemic, they are asking if their disease or its treatments will make them more vulnerable to COVID-19 or its most severe complications. If so, they ask, should they keep visiting cancer centers for therapy, or is the healthier choice to delay care and stay home?

In this special issue, we address those questions in a feature article and note that, although studies indicate that patients with this cancer face an increased rate of severe COVID-19 and death from the virus compared with people in the general population, doctors recommend that patients keep up with cancer treatments as long as they take precautions, such as wearing masks and washing their hands well and frequently.

That advice applies to nearly everyone with a thoracic cancer. Elsewhere in this issue, however, we share insights that affect specific segments of the lung cancer community.

In one such feature, we investigate approved and experimental treatments for mesothelioma, a rare, aggressive cancer that forms in the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart and is caused by inhaling asbestos fibers. For example, in October 2020, the Food and Drug Administration approved Opdivo (nivolumab) with Yervoy (ipilimumab) to treat malignant pleural mesothelioma that can’t be surgically removed — the first approval for the disease in 16 years. We also report on experimental treatments being tested in patients with the disease, including tumor-treating fields, which use low-intensity electrical fields to prevent cancer from growing.

In another article, we examine rare genetic alterations that can make lung cancers treatable with targeted drugs, extending survival. Affecting just 1% to 3% of patients with non-small cell lung cancer, these “glitches” include RET fusions, EGFR T790M mutations, EGFR exon 20 insertion mutations, ROS1 rearrangements, MET amplifications and PIK3CA mutations.

Also in this issue are lung cancer news updates, including details about three treatment regimens that improved patient survival in clinical trials and a number of recently approved drugs.

We hope these articles leave you not only better informed about current and future treatments for lung cancer but also better able to navigate the disease and its treatments during this, particularly uncertain time.

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