Lung cancer in women: an interview with Harold Wimmer and Chuck Brynelsen

insights from industryChuck BrynelsenGlobal President, Covidien Early TechnologiesHarold P. WimmerNational President and CEO, American Lung Association

Why do you think there is a lack of awareness surrounding lung cancer in women and how did you assess this knowledge gap?

Harold Wimmer: We at the American Lung Association know that lung cancer is the number one cancer killer among women, however, there is a startling lack of information available to the public regarding lung cancer.  As part of our LUNG FORCE initiative launched earlier this year, we surveyed 1,000 U.S females using the Women’s Lung Health Barometer and found that only 1% of women even had lung cancer on their radar.

The American Lung Association believes that one of the reasons why information or knowledge about lung cancer is so lacking is that this cancer simply hasn’t been discussed very much.

Unfortunately, there’s a stigma tied to lung cancer, which is an important issue that we are addressing through our LUNG FORCE initiative. We want to make it clear that anyone can get lung cancer and that no one deserves this cancer.

Through LUNG FORCE, we’re hoping to raise awareness among women that lung cancer is the leading cause of death from cancer.

Chuck Brynelsen: I think from the physician’s perspective, another contributing factor is the lack of viable treatment options, which means physicians tend to sometimes use watchful waiting as an approach (depending of course on nodule size and risk factors) with many of these patients.

Today, many new technologies are being developed that provide better, less invasive ways for physicians to diagnose and treat patients. We think this may represent the beginning of a tide change amongst physicians.

We hope with an increased awareness among women of the need to get checked, coupled with an increasing number of new treatment options available to physicians, may help change the tide for this disease.

How important is early diagnosis of lung cancer in improving patient outcomes?

Chuck Brynelsen: It’s extremely important. Numerous studies demonstrate significant improvement in survival rates when lung cancer is caught early, particularly when the cancer is still confined to the lungs.

We are focused on creating awareness, so that patients can get diagnosed early with the disease when they have the highest chances of survival.

If the disease is caught at a later stage, which is usually the case at the moment, the survival rate is only about 4% at 5 years after diagnosis. You can almost flip that number over if lung cancer is diagnosed early, with probably 54% of patients still alive at 5 years.

We would also like to create awareness amongst physicians that when they see a spot on the lung when looking at a CT or a chest X-ray, for example, they really need to get the image assessed by someone who truly understands what they’re looking at, because it’s so critical to the outcome for these patients.

Harold Wimmer: Chuck made a really good point there about the 5-year survival rate being very low: it’s one of the lowest survival rate among all forms of cancer, and especially among those that are most common.

There’s an urgent need for us to find ways to detect lung cancer earlier. That is what the American Lung Association is striving for through our research: to find new techniques and technologies that will enable us to detect lung cancer at either earlier stages, when the survival rate is significantly higher.

We certainly have our work cut out for us in that area, low-dose CT screening, could help to reduce lung cancer mortality by an estimated 14%.

The American Lung Association is focusing on building greater awareness about the importance of early lung cancer detection.

Please can you outline the partnership between Covidien and the American Lung Association to help raise awareness of the threat that lung cancer poses to women?

Harold Wimmer: We’re excited that Covidien has made the decision to join our LUNG FORCE initiative and come on board as a signature education sponsor.

Education and building awareness is a primary component of our LUNG FORCE initiative, so we’re really focused on building a new suite of educational tools, both for lung cancer patients and also healthcare providers.

We will have a series of educational programs across the country. Through our new LUNG FORCE Expos, we will be holding community-based educational events designed for patients, caregivers and healthcare providers to learn more about the latest trends, resources and research surrounding lung cancer and other lung diseases.

Separately, we have expanded our Lung HelpLine. The American Lung Association provides a helpline service for lung cancer patients, their family members and healthcare providers. It’s staffed by nurses and respiratory therapists who can provide assistance and educational advice to individuals calling, emailing or chatting with them.

We also have a number of digital resources on our LUNG FORCE website that provide up-to-date information for lung cancer patients to guide living with lung cancer and also help lung cancer patients and their family members understand the importance of clinical trials, and help link them to clinical trials that are available to them.

We have a vast array of educational services and Covidien is helping to host many of these activities, while at the same time helping us to expand our platform of educational materials.

Chuck Brynelsen: We’re honored to be working alongside the American Lung Association, with the common goal of raising awareness about the significant impact of lung cancer and what actions need to be taken, particularly among those who might not think they’re at risk.

We believe education along with technological innovation is needed in order to solve the problem. By partnering with the American Lung Association to raise awareness, we could help reduce the mortality of this terrible disease that currently kills more Americans than the next three cancers combined.

The American Lung Association is seen very much as an expert on all lung diseases, with a particular focus on cancer. Together with their aims to raise awareness and educate patients, this made them a very likely partner and again, we’re pleased to be working with them.

How do you plan to help change perceptions of lung cancer in women?

Harold Wimmer: Building awareness that lung cancer is the number one cancer killer is the first step, followed by educating the  general public on the fact that anyone can get lung cancer. This doesn’t just happen to individuals who smoke -- in fact, approximately two-thirds of individuals diagnosed with lung cancer today are either former smokers or those who have never smoked at all. The majority of these are former smokers.

There are many risk factors as well -- such as air pollution, radon and genetics, that are all associated with lung cancer. We want to learn more about these risk factors so that we can educate more women and men about lung cancer, because approximately 615 people are diagnosed with lung cancer every day in the U.S. That translates to a woman being diagnosed with lung cancer every 5 minutes!.

Of those individuals diagnosed, less than 50% will be alive 12 months later, so it’s very important that we reach those people as soon as possible after they are diagnosed. We can then encourage them to seek newly available treatments and tumor-testing techniques because that can really help in terms of selecting the best treatment for these patients.

The exciting part about this is that our colleagues and partners at Covidien are coming up with new techniques. The science is advancing how we can treat lung cancer patients,   earlier to really help improve their chances of survival.

Chuck Brynelsen: Certainly much of what we’re doing is supporting groups like the American Lung Association and the LUNG FORCE Expos in particular.

We’re also leveraging our network and relationships with some of the key thought leaders around the globe. We are asking them to attend and participate in LUNG FORCE in order to speak with patients, caregivers and physicians.

We want them to get exposure to these new ways of generating awareness and to know the facts, so they can start to leverage that in their own communications among the medical community.

Some of the new tools available such as Covidien’s superDimensions’ navigation system, enable a physician to get a biopsy to confirm what’s going on, but in a way that’s very safe for the patient.

So, rather than feeling that surgical biopsy is probably too, a physician would be able to safely consider biopsy and take a sample that could be used to definitively diagnose the cancer.

We want physicians to be aware of the data concerning patients and their need for early diagnosis. We also want them to be aware of these kinds of tools and for the need to set up nodule clinics within their hospitals so that if there is an incidental finding on a chest X-ray, for example, there is actually a mechanism for following up on that.

What do you think will be the main challenges that need to be overcome?

Chuck Brynelsen: From my vantage point, it’s probably time. I think it takes time for efforts like this to get underway and for patients to start recognizing that, in fact, things are different than what they’ve perhaps perceived, particularly when lung cancer is just not on the radar for the vast majority of people.

I think it will take some time to really get enough information out there for it to become a part of people’s daily conversation, which is when people really start to become aware of the facts and start to take action.

Harold Wimmer: Our challenge will be to incorporate more early screening techniques so we can detect lung cancer in the earlier stages. That is  very important.

However, we also need to educate the public about the risk factors that are associated with lung cancer other than smoking, so that we can help build awareness that anyone can get lung cancer and remove the stigma that surrounds lung cancer.

We will also invest in lung cancer research through this initiative. The American Lung Association will invest an additional $10 million into lung cancer research through our nationwide organization. Our hope is that, through this new funding, we’ll be able to support new scientific and medical techniques that will improve the way lung cancer patients are treated.

As an organization, we’re making a commitment to raise more dollars for research, but we’re also going to be working very hard to advocate, so that we increase the federal funding for lung cancer, which is currently about $213 million. We want to get that increased to $300 million by 2020. We feel that we can all be successful in getting more funds directed towards lung cancer research, through LUNG FORCE and other initiatives in the lung cancer community.

What do you think the future holds for lung cancer in women?

Harold Wimmer: Our first aim is to increases awareness.  Instead of 1% of women having lung cancer on their radar, we would like to get that figure up much higher, so that women across the country are aware of the risks associated with lung cancer and are also better informed about the screening techniques available.

Also, we want to raise more dollars for lung cancer research.

In the future, we also plan to erase the stigma that surrounds lung cancer.  In today’s world, if someone says that they or someone they know has been diagnosed with lung cancer, the first question that is usually asked is “Well, were they a smoker?”

We need to move away from that and I’m very proud of how the American Lung Association for the past 50 years has been working to fight lung disease and has always been empathetic and supportive of smokers.

After all, more than 70% of smokers want to quit smoking and we are certainly there to assist them. Plus, as I’ve said – anyone can get lung cancer. The research says – if you have lungs, you could get lung cancer.

Chuck Brynelsen: Our vision is certainly to support awareness-building so that we can get patients into the clinic earlier and achieve a timely diagnosis.

However, our real vision is that cancer is no longer a killer and with lung cancer, in particular, we want people to understand the importance of screening and that if they have certain risk factors, a physician can in fact follow up on that and use current technologies to get a definitive diagnosis.

We’re also working on partnering with other groups, as well as internal developments, to create less invasive means of treating patients.

The idea is that someday in the future a patient will be able to come in for a chest X-ray and if a spot is seen on their lung, the tissue could be biopsied and, if necessary, diagnosed and treated all in the same day.

Lung cancer surgical treatment could therefore be much like a non-invasive day-surgery type event, with the vast majority of patients hopefully alive and doing well 5 years after their diagnosis. That’s the vision that we’re working on.

Where can readers find more information?

For more information on LUNG FORCE and the American Lung Association:-

For more information on Covidien: covidien.com

About Harold Wimmer and  Chuck Brynelsen

Harold P. Wimmer
National President and CEO
American Lung Association

Harold P. Wimmer is National President and CEO of the American Lung Association, the nation’s oldest voluntary health association, working to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease – including asthma, COPD, influenza and especially lung cancer.

As National President and CEO, Mr. Wimmer leads the American Lung Association in its Fight For Air through education, advocacy and research.

Mr. Wimmer began his career with the American Lung Association of Illinois in 1978. He was the driving force behind the creation of the American Lung Association Lung HelpLine, a toll-free resource serving the entire country, staffed by registered nurses, respiratory therapists and tobacco cessation specialists who assist callers with lung health issues and tobacco cessation guidance.

Chuck Brynelsen
Global President
Covidien Early Technologies

Under Mr. Brynelsen’s leadership, Covidien Early Technologies is responsible for creating and developing disruptive solutions that improve clinical and economic outcomes for patients, providers and payers in today’s cost sensitive environment.

Prior to joining Covidien in 2013, Mr. Brynelsen was President and Chief Executive Officer at IntraPace, Inc., an early stage medical device company treating obesity.

Before IntraPace, Mr. Brynelsen worked 24 years for Medtronic in various regional, business and corporate leadership roles as the company went from a $250 million pacemaker company to a diversified medical technology enterprise with over $10 billion in revenues.

Mr. Brynelsen received a master’s of business administration at the J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management, Northwestern University, as well as a bachelor’s of arts at Bradley University.

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