All Lung Cancer Treatment is Not Created Equal – Yet

The work to end global disparity in lung cancer treatment is ongoing.

Many minorities face higher cancer death rates, less frequent cancer screenings, so that when it is diagnosed, it is often at a more advanced and less easily treatable stage.

Dr. Gilberto Lopes, medical director for International Programs at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of the University of Miami Health System, and a world-renowned expert in lung cancer, says the recent advances of immunotherapy and targeted approaches to treating lung cancer aren’t often available to lower-economic status patients and those in developing countries.

Treatment for this disease has drastically changed and improved in the last several years. However, the high cost means these treatments aren’t available in many countries. And these patients also have less access to clinical trials that could be life-saving.

African-American male and female patients in the United States have the highest incidence and death rates for lung cancer, according to data from the National Cancer Institute. Internationally, for example in Brazil, the second most common cancer in men is lung cancer; in Brazilian females, it ranks as a significant source of mortality. While since 2015, there has been a decline in cancer mortality in state capitals in Brazil, mortality has actually increased in the smaller cities.

However, says Dr. Lopes, they are finding solutions to bridge the disparity gaps and differences in care.

Experts are working to increase the ability of immunotherapy to be effective for even more lung cancer patients by exploring ways to block cancer cells’ resistance to our immune system in early-stage and locally advanced disease, testing immune-based therapies in small cell lung cancer (SCLC) and mesothelioma, and tweaking some of the current methods to avoid resistance.

Dr. Lopes says that in settings where patients have less access to health care and insurance, the goal is to increase access to:

  • Better coverage for health care
  • Smoking cessation programs
  • Screening low-dose CT scans
  • Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation
  • Molecular testing
  • Targeted therapy and immunotherapies
  • Clinical trials

Sylvester is working on a number of initiatives to strengthen cancer registries, prevention and treatment networks in Latin America and the Caribbean. For minority patients, including those in developing countries, this gives hope to everyone that the newest and best lung cancer treatments will be more available and save more lives.



Mary Jo Blackwood, RN, MPH, is a contributing writer for the UMiami Health News blog. She is a two-time breast cancer thriver, and a long-time freelance medical writer based in St. Louis, MO and Hartsel, CO.