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Freeman Cebu Lifestyle

Immunotherapy: Hope for Lung Cancer Patients

Dezsa C. Rubio - The Freeman

CEBU, Philippines — In 2015, more than one and a half million people died from lung cancer all over the world.

The disease, estimated to be responsible for nearly one in five cancer deaths, can show up in the most subtle forms like body aches, colds or coughs. Such ordinary health concerns that most Filipinos dismiss and not care to consult medical professionals for a diagnosis.

The late TV broadcaster Angelo Castro Jr. succumbed to lung cancer in 2012 after his diagnosis four years earlier. Castro had been smoking since he was 10 years old but had quit the habit 10 years before his diagnosis. As with other patients, a persistent cough drove Angelo to consult a doctor.

Castro availed of alternative treatments and remained in good shape despite an initial prognosis of having only a few months to live. Those treatments continued until he turned to medical doctors and finally underwent chemotherapy to eradicate any remaining malignancy in his body. Unfortunately for Castro, the medications were not enough.

“Always think of something more,” advised pulmonologist of Dr. Bernardita Chua of Perpetual Succour Hospital. “The most common notion here in the Philippines is that if you have chronic cough – cough for more than two weeks – is [that you] have Tuberculosis or TB. But if you test negatively for TB and the cough is still there, and if the patient has a history of smoking, even if he or she stopped already, always think about a more catastrophic diagnosis.”

Even if the coughing is resolved through medication but back pain is still present, patients are advised to seek out the doctor again. Symptoms which may not seem serious but are also a cause for concern include weight loss, difficulty in breathing, changes in voice and blood in phlegm. Medical personnel should likewise be wary of their patient’s condition by checking after two weeks to make sure that they’re giving out the right diagnosis.

In an interview for the “Hope from Within” campaign recently, Dr. James Guardiario of the Thoracic and General Surgery of Chong Hua Hospital and Perpetual Soccour Hospital stressed the importance of early screening for lung cancer. “The main reason why we only find out about the cancer in its critical stage,” he said, “is because of the lack of early screening and testing.”

Angelo Castro’s family is to learn that the medical community has achieved a lot in creating more effective and efficient treatment options for cancer since his death just a few years ago. Angelo’s son, Diego, hopes that his father’s death would serve as an eye opener for others to “test, talk and take action.”

“Hope from Within,” a multi-sector advocacy group, urges Filipinos to be more proactive in battling cancer through early diagnosis and new treatments like immunotherapy, which involves fortifying the body’s natural healthy cells to avoid being overtaken by malignant cells, preventing the latter from multiplying. The pathology of samples from the patient through biopsy, such as tissue or body fluids, molecular testing, can effectively determine the best immunotherapy drugs to target specific malignant cells.

Unlike the traditional standard treatment for cancer like chemotherapy, immunotherapy presents less or little side effects. Patients who have undergone immunotherapy have experienced minimal inflammation. Immunotherapy consists of well-tolerated drugs and has a response rate of 44 percent tumor reduction. The treatment is most effective when administered as early as possible, upon the onset of the disease.

While having cancer was like an imminent death sentence before, new treatments like immunotherapy bring renewed hope for patients to be able to fight the disease – live longer, quality lives.

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