A Q&A with Maureen Rigney, director of community and support services for the Lung Cancer Alliance.
Some notable considerations in prevention and treatment are on the table this year during Lung Cancer Awareness Month. There has been recent news regarding Medicare’s proposal to cover lung cancer screening in high-risk individuals, and the FDA has granted breakthrough therapy designation to the immunotherapy Keytruda (pembrolizumab) as a potential treatment for non-small cell lung cancer.
To learn more about these and other developments, CURE discussed upcoming advances in lung cancer with Maureen Rigney, director of community and support services for the Lung Cancer Alliance.
A licensed social worker, Rigney oversees the Lung Cancer Alliance’s support and outreach services, which include a clinical trial matching service, a helpline, online and in-person support communities and a phone buddy system that connects patients with peers.
CURE: Can you give us an update on the work being done to promote lung cancer screening in high-risk populations?
Rigney: We have been working for years to communicate with those at high risk for lung cancer about the importance of talking to their doctors about their risk and getting screened. When the USPSTF (U.S. Preventive Services Task Force) decision recommending screening for 55- to 80-year-olds with a long smoking history came out, we were right there with a risk navigator tool, atriskforlungcancer.org, as well as our “Moments” campaign, which encouraged people to live more moments and get screened. Now that nearly 10 million at-risk Americans are covered for screening, we are going to be running another campaign that is in development right now.
We also work with our more than 250 screening centers of excellence (most of which are in community-based settings) to educate their public and drive people to responsible screening and care.
What are some of the pending advancements in lung cancer treatment that may have the greatest impact on patients?
Screening will have a huge impact on overall survival for lung cancer, there is no question, but we know that as we start to screen more people, we will find lung cancer at all stages, which is why the treatment innovations taking place are such an important thing as well. There are some innovations that will be upon us in the coming months that show much promise and significance for changing the survival rate for lung cancer. Immunotherapy is an exciting treatment modality that is showing an enormous amount of promise in lung cancer. Also, there are some new second-line treatments that target a genetic mutation. This presents options to patients that have never been there before. With (the clinical trial) Lung-MAP there is an increased interest in squamous cell lung cancer research and guiding patients to the trials that will most benefit them based on their personal makeup. The National Cancer Institute has announced that small-cell lung cancer will be a research priority as well.
In addition to treatment goals, what are some of the quality of life and psychosocial issues patients should be aware of?
We have developed a mobile application to help those diagnosed identify and track their side effects and link those to specific treatments. We know that fatigue and muscle wasting are some of the most debilitating and hard to manage side effects.
There can also be a sense of loneliness or isolation when someone is diagnosed with lung cancer. There is a stigma with lung cancer unlike that for any other cancer. Patients may feel that their doctors, family and friends blame them for their disease. They may blame themselves. This is a very important issue to acknowledge and address.
What advice would you give to patients newly diagnosed with lung cancer?
A few things. Don’t give up. There are options available, and with many treatments lung cancer has become a chronic disease. You are not alone. There is a caring community of those impacted who want nothing more than to help you and your family through the journey. Also, it is not your fault. You don’t deserve lung cancer. You deserve compassion, support and options for survival.