Navy Veteran Jim Pantelas has spent the last 15 years working to fund new lung cancer research, combat patient stigma, and improve care for lung cancer patients. His mission is personal: He is a survivor of stage 3 lung cancer, with stage 4 lymph node involvement.
Working together with the Lung Cancer Alliance, now part of the GO2 Foundation for Lung Cancer, Pantelas frequently finds himself on Capitol Hill lobbying to increase funding for lung cancer research and early detection programs.
“Early screening is the single biggest thing that has hit lung cancer in forever. You can talk all you want about immunotherapies that are available for lung cancer, and they are wonderful. But they only treat 15% of the lung cancer population,” says Pantelas.
With lung cancer screening programs, physicians are catching more cancer earlier, when it is still treatable, says Pantelas. Historically, he notes, most lung cancers were caught at stage 4, when treatment options were limited.
Veterans are at greater risk of lung cancer
Some 900,000 Veterans are at risk of developing lung cancer due to older age, a history of smoking, and environmental exposures during or after military service. Each year, VA diagnoses 7,700 Veterans with lung cancer.
“In my era, Agent Orange was a given,” says Pantelas. “If you served a day in Vietnam and you got lung cancer, it was [presumed to be related to Agent Orange]. But it took 20 years to get there.”
VA has partnered with the GO2 Foundation to increase awareness about lung cancer screening and to improve outcomes for Veterans affected by lung cancer. The partnership will allow VA to share Veteran-centric information and resources via the foundation’s 750 Screening Centers of Excellence.