One Chinese-American Woman Fights Advanced Lung Cancer
November is Lung Awareness Month. According to a study by the Asian American Network for Cancer Awareness, Research, and Training, the Chinese-American population has the highest death rates for lung and bronchial cancer among all Asian-American groups. The number one cause of cancer death in the United States, lung cancer will kill more Americans this year than breast, prostate, colon, and liver cancers combined.
Lung cancer patient, Ellen Chung, refuses to let these statistics affect her positive outlook on life. Chung was diagnosed with Stage IV non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) in December of 2002. She never smoked and her only symptoms were some indigestion and pain in her left chest and shoulder.
Resiliency is not a new concept for Chung. Born in Hawaii, her father worked in a sugar cane field, and she was fifth of six children. She worked two jobs to make her dream of moving to New York City after high school come true. Chung has since moved to four different cities, had four children, returned to college in her 30's, and is now retired and enjoying life as a grandmother.
"My first oncologist gave me nine months to live and said the only effective treatment option was chemotherapy, which may or may not give me more time - I decided to try another oncologist," Chung said.
According to Chung's current oncologist, Dr. Nick Chen, M.D., Ph.D., Seattle Cancer Treatment and Wellness Center, there are currently four standard treatments for lung cancer - surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and targeted therapies.
Chung's Stage IV cancer initially responded well to chemotherapy, but eventually the cancer returned. When Tarceva (erlotinib) was approved, Dr. Chen recommended this treatment for Chung.
"Now, almost six years later, I take a pill once-a-day called Tarceva, which allows me to continue living my life," Chung said.
"In recent years there have been advances in lung cancer treatment, including targeted therapies, like Tarceva, that allow us to specifically attack the cancer cells," said Dr. Chen. "Studies have been conducted showing the benefit of Tarceva in non-smoking Chinese-American women, like Ellen, who has had a positive response."
For more information on lung cancer and treatment options
"The Unequal Burden of Cancer Among Asian Americans".
Asian American Network for Cancer Awareness, Research, and Training Web site.
Tarceva is FDA-approved for use as a monotherapy in patients with locally advanced or metastatic NSCLC whose disease has progressed after one or more courses of chemotherapy. Tarceva is not intended to be used at the same time as chemotherapy for NSCLC. These advances have helped patients like Chung live longer with the disease. It is important to keep in mind that individual results may vary.