Early lung cancer screenings improve treatment options

id you know lung cancer is the leading cancer killer in both men and women in the United States? Dr. Min Kim, head of thoracic surgery at Houston Methodist Hospital, takes care of patients with thoracic disease and performs research and trials to understand the mechanism involved in lung cancer metastasis. I recently sat down with Dr. Kim to talk about the current state and future of lung cancer.

Lung cancer kills 160,000 Americans a year and we’re seeing about 200,000 newly diagnosed cases a year Click To Tweet
Min P. Kim, M.D
Dr. Min Kim

Lung cancer takes more lives than breast, prostate and colon cancers combined in the United States. In the last 35 years, the overall survival rate in lung cancer patients has only improved by about four to five percent. Why? 

Dr. Kim: The main reason for such poor overall survival is that by the time patients with lung cancer see a doctor, the majority of those patients have metastatic disease. We have effective treatments for early stage lung cancer but for patients with metastatic disease, there are few effective treatments available.

This has led me to devote my scientific career to the study of cancer metastasis. I have recently developed a 4D model that can mimic the biology of cancer progression. My hope is that this model can help us better understand the biology of cancer progression and ultimately develop treatments to stop metastasis.

How have you seen surgical treatment options evolve?

Dr. Kim: For patients with early stage lung cancer, we have developed minimally invasive approaches to treat lung cancer. There are two main minimally invasive approaches that are utilized at Houston Methodist Hospital. We are performing both video assisted thoracic surgery (VATS) lung resection as well as robot-assisted lung resection. Both approaches provide our patients with significantly fewer complications, less pain and faster recovery compared to the traditional open surgery.  

Lung cancer kills nearly 160,000 Americans a year and we’re seeing about 200,000 newly diagnosed cases a year. Do you think more people need to be screened in order to improve survival rates?

Dr. Kim: Yes. Recent low-dose computed tomographic (CT) screening for people who are at high risk for developing lung cancer has shown that screening will reduce the chance of dying from lung cancer by 20 percent. I advocate anyone who has a significant smoking history to undergo a screening CT scan. This will allow the person to get diagnosed with early stage lung cancer, which can be treated and potentially cured with surgery.

Low-dose CT scans can reduce the chance of dying from lung cancer by 20% Click To Tweet

In addition to screening for people with a significant history of smoking, I advocate for people to never smoke. Recently there has been a decrease in the death rate from lung cancer and this is due to a decrease in the number of smokers. If no one smokes, lung cancer can become a rare disease.

You still have several more decades of being in practice. What’s your hope by the time you retire? 

Dr. Kim: My hope is that by the time that I retire, lung cancer will become a chronic disease and people will no longer die from this disease.

lung cancer infographic