Lung Cancer Patient Advocate, Navigator or Health Advocate
The concept of patient advocacy in its current form was developed in 1950’s as the treatment of cancer patients grew more and more technically complicated, as a means to make the voice of the patient more readily heard. In today’s world of constantly evolving medical techniques, treatments, and services, the average individual cannot be expected to be thoroughly acquainted with any and all this material. So it becomes the function of the lung cancer patient advocate to perform a variety of services to ease the burden of the patient, and their family, as they learn to deal with every aspect of the disease.
The primary concern of the lung cancer advocate to the support the cancer patient in all aspects of life with the disease, whether they be physical, emotional, or financial. An advocate can assist the patient in investigating available treatment options and educating the patient on the efficacy of each of them, be it pharmacological or surgical. By educating the patient, the advocate can be of great assistance in helping them make an informed decision about their course of action, and the possible side effects and outcomes. Support may also involve recommending counseling services for the patient, and their family members, to help them cope from day to day. Lung cancer patient advocates may also be of assistance in helping the patient, and their caregivers, deal with any physical debilitation resulting from the disease, and its treatment.
Another aspect of lung patient advocacy is assistance in navigating the financial aspects of treating the disease. An advocate can act as a liaison between the patient and his or her insurance company, assuring that the patient receives any and all benefits to which they are entitled. When one is dealing with a serious disease, it is quite easy to lose track of other aspects of your life. An advocate can help to seek out sources of assistance which can ease the financial burden of the patient.
Education is also a major function of a cancer advocate. Both the patient, and their caregivers, are often in need of information about how the disease will affect their lives, both during its progression, and in its aftermath. Patients must be informed about how their condition will affect their mobility, the ability to care for themselves, and if they will be left with any permanent impairment to their lifestyle. Caregivers need to be instructed in mechanisms, or techniques they must use to cope with the patient’s daily care, such as injections, proper care of surgical dressings, etc.
The cancer patient, above everything else, needs to know that there is someone in their corner. Someone who will help them find their way through the confusing, and sometimes daunting, world of modern medicine. Someone who will have their best interests in mind as they face challenges presented every day in their struggle to find, secure, and finance the best treatment available.
What is Lung Cancer?
Broadly speaking, lung cancer is where by abnormal multiplication of cell happen in the lung tissue. This leads to impaired physiological functions of the lung. There are two broad types of cancer. One is Small Cell Lung Cancer, SCLC and the other type is Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer – NSCLC. These two types are further divided into more sub-types.
Initially a person with lung cancer may complain of non-specific symptoms like lethargy and generally feeling unwell. As the disease progresses the following symptoms may present.
· Chronic cough. If a person is a smoker, he might think it is the less dangerous ‘smokers’ cough’.
· Chest pains which may be more on the affected side.
· Narrowed airways may lead to whistling sound when breathing – wheezing.
· Difficulty in breathing which may be progressive.
· Blood-stained sputum.
· Weight loss may appear.
Like many other cancers, the exact cause of lung cancer is not known. However, there are confirmed lifestyle choices and genetic factors that increase chances of a person getting this type of cancer.
· Smoking comes top on this list. It promotes cancer development in two ways. One is by exposing the body to known carcinogenic chemicals found in tobacco. The other is by destroying the inner lining of the airways creating room for other environmental pollutants to cause problems to the lungs.
· Passive smoking. Non-smokers living or working with smokers are at a considerable risk of getting the disease.
· People working in high radiation environment also have higher chances of getting affected.
· Family history of the disease.
Apart from a physical examination by a qualified health personnel, the following diagnostic test will help to confirm or rule out the presence of lung cancer.
· A plain chest X-ray.
· A spiral CT scan. This is useful in detecting early tumors.
· Sputum for cancer cells. This sputum can also be used to rule out tuberculosis which can also present with almost similar symptoms.
· A Fine Needle Aspirate (FNA) of the tumor material may be done to confirm the presence of cancer cells.
· Routine screening has discovered people with lung cancer who never complained of any serious symptoms.
These tests are useful because they will help to confirm the presence of cancer, the type of cancer and the extent of spread of the malignant cells. These points are important in determining the best type of treatment to be employed.
There are four types of treatment in current use. In practice they are usually used in combination. These are:
· Surgery. This may involve removal of the affected lobe (lobectomy) or the whole lung and certain associated lymph nodes.
· Chemotherapy. Here cytotoxic drugs are used to kill the cancer cell locally as well as those that may have spread to other parts of the body.
· Targeted therapies involve strategies to starve the cancer cells by for example cutting off their blood supply and hence starving them to death.
These measures if started early promote quality life to the victim although the prognosis is poor. This is true especially with the Small Cell Lung Cancer type as it spreads quickly and grows very fast. About half of those diagnosed early don’t survive for more than five years even with treatment.
· In the U.S lung cancer is the number one cancer killer in both men and women.
· For every 10 lung cancer deaths, smoking contributes 9 deaths.
· Some places in the U.S have more naturally occurring Radon gas which is suspected to contribute up to 12% of lung cancer cases.
· For the non-smokers who get lung cancer, women outnumber men.
Although lung cancer is a deadly disease, avoiding smoking or stopping (even after diagnosis) significantly raises the chances of not getting the disease or at least living longer with it.