Lung cancer is often considered incurable, because the tumour is detected too late in many cases. In this interview, Prof. Dr. Felix Herth explains why women are particularly often affected by this fatal cancer and why so many patients from abroad choose the Thoraxklinik Heidelberg.
The Thoraxklinik Heidelberg is one of the oldest and biggest pulmonary clinics in Europe. Most lung cancer patients in Germany are treated here. The clinic is also the right address for people suffering from a rare disease of the respiratory tract since the Thorax Clinic is a certified centre for rare diseases.
In these five clinics, most lung cancer/bronchial cancer patients in Germany are treated:
Clinic Compass: Prof. Dr. med. Herth, we are talking about lung cancer today. Most new cases of cancer are declining, but unfortunately this doesn’t apply to lung cancer. Women in particular are diagnosed with this cancer more and more frequently. What are the reasons for that?
Prof. Herth: In the middle of the1960s, women decided to emancipate and began to smoke. Now some of them have reached the dose of smoke that causes cancer. It takes decades until the risk of illness increases. Another important aspect is passive smoking. In the course of emancipation, women went to work where people were smoking.
Clinic Compass: In how far does the inhalation of car exhaust gases promote the risk of lung cancer?
Prof. Herth: That is a difficult subject. The particulate matter itself certainly is a problem, especially if you are exposed to it on a regular basis. Pollution is particularly high near main streets. The residents of these areas are often socially deprived people that are also more likely to smoke. That’s why it is difficult to find a suitable control group and to establish scientific evidence. For this reason, we don’t know how harmful particulate matter is in comparison to the inhalation of cigarette smoke. However, cigarette smoke certainly is the more potential factor here.
Clinic Compass: The survival rate for lung cancer is relatively low because the tumour is often only detected at a late stage. Which new treatment approaches give you hope that in the future, fewer patients die?
Prof. Herth: Today, there are more treatment approaches than in the past and we have a much more personalized medicine, for example immunotherapy. By a certain molecular understanding of what the problem might be, today we can apply individual therapies that would have been inconceivable some decades ago. Nevertheless, the development only ever occurs in the field of the metastatic stage because the tumour is still detected at a late stage. If the tumour has already spread, an individual therapy can prolong survival time but the disease can no longer be cured. The problem of lung cancer can only be solved if cigarette consumption is completely prohibited or by means of early detection. Only if the carcinoma is detected at an early stage, therapies can be provided that can cure the patient.
Clinic Compass: The Thoraxklinik Heidelberg treats most of the patients with a lung cancer or bronchial cancer diagnosis in Germany (ICD-10-C34). The clinic also enjoys/has an excellent international reputation. Do you receive many patients from abroad?
Prof. Herth: More and more people are affected by a pulmonary disease, whether it is COPD, asthma or other diseases. Due to the fact that we are a university hospital and we take care of many patients, we constantly develop new diagnostic methods and alternative treatment processes. We offer studies for practically every disease so that patients that cannot be cured in their home country anymore come to us. The word then spreads quickly, that is why we are a popular address on an international basis.
Prof. Herth, thank you very much for the interview.
Prof. Dr. med. Felix Herth is Medical Director and chief physician of the department for Internal Medicine – Pneumology of the Thoraxklinik Heidelberg which is part of the local University hospital. His research interest focusses on interventional pneumology and the treatment of COPD.