Surviving The Deadliest Cancer

FRESNO, Calif. It kills more people than any other cancer. It takes more lives than breast, prostate and colon cancer combined. So how did these women go from hearing you have lung cancer to you're cancer-free?

"When you first hear, 'You have cancer,' you don't expect to get over it like I did," Frances Nirich, a lung cancer survivor, told Ivanhoe.

Nirich is one of about 55,000 people who are told they're too sick, and too old or too weak for surgery to remove the tumor. She enrolled in a study to see if the CyberKnife can help those who can't go under a real knife.

"While you're radiating a tumor that moves, you can hit it with millimeter precision," Brian Collins, M.D., Radiation Oncologist at Georgetown University Hospital, told Ivanhoe.

The device shoots radiation into the tumor without harming the rest of the lungs -- even as the patient breathes in and out. A five-year study found CyberKnife destroyed 95 percent of tumors. The three-year survival rate was 80 percent. It is a big difference from traditional radiation, which destroys 30 percent of tumors and carries a 30 percent survival rate. It destroyed all of Nirich's cancer.

"Almost unbelievable," Dr. Collins explained.

Lung cancer patient Jennifer Hoppock didn't want to go through major surgery either.

"We're now using smaller, keyhole incisions and telescopes with long instruments," Michael Smith, M.D., thoracic surgeon at St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix, Ariz., said.

Instead of an 8-inch incision between the ribs, surgeons make a few inch-long incisions and use a camera and video screen to find the tumor.

"I went back to work after three weeks," Hoppock said.

Two lung cancer patients turned survivors thanks to technology that's helping turn the grim statistics around.

The majority of people who develop lung cancer are ex-smokers. Doctors say as soon as you stop smoking, your risk of lung cancer starts to go down. Fifteen years after you've stopped smoking, your risk is almost the same as that of a non-smoker.

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Cheryl Savage
Georgetown University Hospital
Washington, DC
(202) 444-4639

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