In October, UPCI and UPMC CancerCenter had the privilege of participating in a wide variety of breast cancer awareness activities. From cooking healthy recipes with Pittsburgh Steelers Dennis Dixon, Ryan Mundy and Trai Essex at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC to participating in NFL Breast Cancer Awareness Day on October 9th, UPMC CancerCenter breast cancer patients were able to share their love of football (and a major Steelers win) while promoting an important message: Breast Cancer Screening Saves Lives. Three of our sites — UPMC Passavant (McCandless), UPMC Cancer Center, Windber and UPMC St. Clair Cancer Center - received beautiful quilts from the Ford Warriors in Pink Program that were auctioned off or permanently displayed. These events barely scratch the surface of October's activities, and as a breast oncologist and researcher I have a deep appreciation for how far we've come in bringing attention to the disease.
October also brought two events that united all of us committed to cancer research and care. UPCI and UPMC CancerCenter researchers, clinicians, staff members, and, most importantly, patients came together for Hockey Fights Cancer, an awareness event sponsored by the National Hockey League and embraced by our own Pittsburgh Penguins on October 27. On October 19th, 800 of our staunchest advocates came together for the Hillman Cancer Center gala in the Consol Energy Center to celebrate what has been accomplished and recommit to the tasks that remain in our quest for a future without cancer.
As we move into November, it is vital for us to recognize lung cancer awareness month. Each year, lung cancer kills more people than breast, colon and prostate cancer combined, yet lung cancer receives very little attention. According to medical oncologist Dr. Mark Socinski, the new co-director of our Lung Cancer Program and the co-director of our Lung Cancer Center of Excellence, there are several myths surrounding lung cancer we need to correct. The first is that only smokers get lung cancer. Certainly, smokers are especially at risk but individuals who have never smoked a cigarette can also develop the disease. Another misconception is that more women die of breast cancer than lung cancer. In fact lung cancer –not breast cancer –is the biggest cancer killer for American women.
Lung cancer affects men and women of all ages. It is diagnosed in smokers and nonsmokers. It is one of the deadliest types of cancer because symptoms often don't appear until the disease has progressed. Because outcomes are still poor for so many lung cancer patients, research seeking to understand the disease is of the utmost importance. At UPCI, we are proud that our lung cancer Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) has recently been renewed by the National Cancer Institute for its 11th to 15th year of funding. This highly competitive grant underwrites some of our research to improve lung cancer detection, enhance lung cancer treatment, and identify tobacco exposed individuals at highest risk for lung cancer. Led by Drs. Jill Siegfried, William Bigbee and Joel Weissfeld, this SPORE validates UPCI as a leader in lung cancer research. We know that the SPORE researchers will help us to achieve better lung cancer treatments quickly.
Good science is of course the foundation for good medicine and great care for the many patients who need treatment today. Surgery and radiation therapy are critical forms of therapy for some early forms of lung cancer and we are fortunate to house a vibrant Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery (under the leadership of James Luketich, MD) whose members are at the forefront of the surgical management of lung cancer. I am particularly proud of our Lung Cancer Specialty Care Center at UPMC CancerCenter, which offers a multidisciplinary approach to lung cancer treatment, including minimally invasive surgical options, access to clinical trials and comprehensive support care options. The goal behind this center is to expedite the development and implementation of a lung cancer treatment plan by bringing together a team of experts — from surgeons to pain management specialists — to maximize input and save valuable time for patients and families. Treatment plans are developed in partnership with the patient's referring physician.
While our researchers work toward a better understanding of lung cancer prevention and treatment and our oncologists continue ensuring lung cancer patients receive the latest, most effective treatments as quickly as possible, there are steps you can take to reduce your lung cancer risk. First and foremost, if you smoke, please quit. Smoking cessation has so many benefits above and beyond reducing your risk for lung cancer. When you stop smoking you reduce your risk for a wide variety of other cancers as well as for heart disease, cataracts and dementia. And of course, if you don't smoke, don't start.
Second, become involved in advocacy for cancer research and cancer care. This is an opportune time for all of us in Pittsburgh to thank the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life at the University of Pittsburgh, an organization that aims to bring together the Pittsburgh campus community with the mission of uniting as undergraduate students for philanthropic purposes. Over the last 6 years they have raised a total of $500,000 to support lung cancer research at UPCI. This was accomplished through a myriad of events, including Pitt Dance Marathon (PDM), Greek Sing, PDM Date Auction, a talent show, Greek Week Trivia and individual donations. We thank our students for their commitment to advocacy and fundraising for such an important cause.
Right now there is no guarantee against lung cancer, but if you take healthy steps to control your risk and we continue seeking to understand the way the disease develops, together we have a strong chance of defeating this disease in the future!