As Seen in the News-Press:

Dr. Ahmad spoke about the importance of lung cancer awareness and the dangers of lack of funding for the disease with the News-Press. View the article below.

By Craig Handel

Melissa Crouse’s 11-year journey with cancer has taken her to Washington D.C. for congressional hearings and it has won her an Emmy for telling her story.

But what gives Crouse her biggest satisfaction is the local support group she has started in Fort Myers. About 10-20 people attend her monthly meetings and many will call after that, some in tears, as they talk about their difficulties in dealing with the disease.

“It’s great to be able to help and be there for support,” she said. “I know what they’re going through and it’s very valuable to talk to each other and share experiences.”

October is Liver Cancer Awareness Month, November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month and Crouse can speak for both.

After being diagnosed with lung cancer in 2005, she went into remission for 3 ½ years only to see the cancer metastasize to her liver. She now is at stage 4. She had to retire as a teacher and often struggles to get out of bed, but she’s ready to go a few more rounds with the disease.

“I’m a fighter and I refuse to give into this,” she said. “I try not to let cancer define me. I’m grateful I’m here and grateful for the little things. I’m able to walk and get mail. My family is here and are a great source of inspiration to me. And I really believe attitude can carry you a long way. It really can.”

A former teacher, Crouse hopes her interactions with politicians, survivors and the media can lead to increased awareness. Using the website LUNGevity as a source, among the things she wants people to know about lung cancer is:

• More lives are lost to lung cancer than to colorectal, pancreatic, breast, and prostate cancers combined.

• Only 6 percent of federal government dollars spent on cancer research are spent on lung cancer research

• 60-65 percent of all new lung cancer diagnoses are among people who have never smoked or are former smokers.

“Anybody can get lung cancer,” she said. “I read a 9-year-old child got it. I network with women in their 30s who were pregnant and diagnosed. Those people never smoked. We need to stop associating lung cancer with smoking. Smoking can cause lung cancer but there are different kinds of lung cancer.

“It’s also affecting funding. Lung cancer takes more lives than the top four cancers combined but receives the lowest research dollars. It just doesn’t make any sense.”

Advances in lung cancer

A reason why lung cancer has a high number of deaths is that many people are diagnosed when they’re at Stage 3 or Stage 4.

“It’s really too late,” said Dr. Imtiaz Ahmad, a board certified pulmonologist with Allergy, Sleep & Lung Care. “The diagnosis is pretty horrible.”

Crouse adds, “That’s the trick. It manifests itself the majority of time in youths or otherwise healthy people. There are a lot of non-symptoms before stage 4.”

Medicare now covers low dose CT screenings for those at high risk of lung cancer. This is a new coverage determination as of last year. Crouse and Ahmad would like to see more people become eligible for screenings.

While he calls breast cancer screening the model or early detection, Ahmad adds, “It’s different how breast cancer and how lung cancer happen. With lung cancer, there’s a significant amount, we simply don’t know. There are genetic markers and fundamental research needs to happen. There’s not enough research for lung cancer because it’s the most neglected in terms of funding.”

Ahmad agrees with Crouse that funding is less because there’s an automatic association that those who smoke are those who mainly have lung cancer.

Both Ahmad and Crouse are excited about targeted cancer therapies and new drugs.

Targeted cancer therapies are drugs or other substances that block the growth and spread of cancer by interfering with specific molecules or molecular targets that are involved in the growth, progression, and spread of cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Click here to read the full story on the News-Press website.