Merlene Davis: Lung cancer research should be higher on the funding list

Herald-Leader columnistNovember 11, 2013 


    Third annual Free to Breathe 5K Run/Walk to benefit lung cancer research and awareness

    When: 9 a.m. Nov. 16. Registration starts at 7 a.m., with a rally at 8:40 a.m.

    Where: Commonwealth Stadium, 1540 University Dr.

    Cost: $30.

    Information: Visit

It is hard to imagine there is a more passionate advocate for lung cancer research than Lisa Maggio.

The University of Kentucky College of Nursing doctoral candidate lost her father to the disease in 1990. Since then, working as a certified tobacco dependence treatment specialist and a nurse educator for targeted therapies for lung cancer treatment, Maggio has been an advocate for lung cancer patients and their families.

"I'm glad you asked why I'm so passionate about lung cancer," Maggio said. "My father's struggle certainly initiated it. Sometimes it's like he's sitting on my shoulder urging me on.

"More importantly, lung cancer suffers an injustice that no other cancer diagnosis has to endure," she continued. Cigarette smoking and secondhand smoke are readily associated with lung cancer. When smoking was demonized, so was the cancer, she said. That meant funding for research fell well behind that of other cancers. "I can't figure out the disconnect in this state," she said.

Kentucky leads the nation in lung cancer cases and lung cancer deaths. And yes, tobacco has played an integral role in the rates of lung cancer cases, but it's not the only trigger. Air pollution, radon, asbestos and radioactive dust are factors that also can increase the risk.

If you have lungs, Maggio said, you can get lung cancer, whether you smoke or not.

"We lead the nation in lung cancer incidence, death and smoking," Maggio said. "We need to put money into helping people quit, into radon detection, and avoidance of second-hand smoke."

But even though Kentucky had become the poster child for lung cancer, not much research was being conducted in this state or even this nation to figure out why.

That's why Maggio helped organize the first Free to Breathe event in Lexington in 2011, which heightens awareness of the disease through a 5K run/walk, with proceeds supporting the National Lung Cancer Partnership, a non-profit organization comprised of doctors, patient advocates, survivors and researchers who are trying to find a better treatment for the disease. Because there was little federal funding for lung cancer research, the doctors decided to start something on their own. Their goal is to double the five-year lung cancer survival rate by 2022.

As it stands, only 16 percent of those diagnosed with lung cancer survive for five years, according to the American Cancer Society, mainly because of late diagnosis. For breast cancer, the survival rate is 89 percent.

More people die of lung cancer than breast, prostate and colon cancers combined.

"There is a stigma against smokers," Maggio said, "and the two go together."

I quit smoking in 1994, and 10 years later I began coughing for no apparent reason. I coughed for about six months before doctors found cancer in my right lung in 2004, and that was after a couple of antibiotic treatments for pneumonia and a change of physicians. Fortunately it was at stage 2, and in the lower lobe of my lung, a great location for surgery.

In 2006, while I was still under the watchful eye of Dr. Victor Ferraris at the Markey Cancer Center, cancer was found in the lower lobe of my left lung. Again it was a very early stage and again I had surgery.

The key, Maggio said, is early detection.

And to do that, people have to be more aware of the risks for lung cancer, and we have to find better treatment plans.

That's why Free to Breathe is so important.

The event will be held Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium. Registration begins at 7 a.m., the run/walk starts at 9 a.m., and awards will be given out at 10 a.m. Registration is $30.

A rally celebrating survivors will be held before the race, and a health fair will be held during the race. Maggio is asking all survivors to attend the rally.

"No one deserves lung cancer or any kind of cancer and we can only change that mind-set through advocacy and education," Maggio said.


Third annual Free to Breathe 5K Run/Walk to benefit lung cancer research and awareness

When: 9 a.m. Nov. 16. Registration starts at 7 a.m., with a rally at 8:40 a.m.

Where: Commonwealth Stadium, 1540 University Dr.

Cost: $30.

Information: Go to

Merlene Davis: (859) 231-3218. Email: Twitter: @reportmerle. Blog:

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