Lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S.

At the forefront of advancing care and treatments has been and continues to be the VA. Veterans participate in clinical trials that help us expand screening programs and develop lifesaving drugs for lung cancer.

In honor of Lung Cancer Awareness Month, "LA Times Today" got an inside look at the VA’s Lung Precision Oncology Program and its heroic efforts to cure lung cancer.

Dr. Drew Moghanaki is a staff physician at the VA Greater Los Angeles. He shared that the VA has a long history of researching lung cancer. 

"Veterans who serve in the military, either on certain military bases or in toxic fields of battle, were exposed to carcinogenic compounds," he said. "So, because of this, we generally see what appears to be a higher rate of many cancers, including lung cancer among veterans in this country. Our VA has joined a national network of other V.A. medical centers to make lung cancer screening for early detection and treatment a priority for all the veterans who use the VA for their health care."

Patients get CT scans with adjustable layers of radiation to screen for cancerous tumors in their lungs. Dr. Steven Dubinett, a staff physician at the VA, explained their research. 

"Cancers, particularly those in the lung, have ways of evading the immune response. And our research is really focused on understanding those basic mechanisms," said Dubinett. "We are evaluating in the laboratory several different possibilities for immune-boosting strategies. We have one trial in particular now that utilizes what are called gene modified cells that come from the blood that really turn on the immune system and helping the immune system work to recognize those tumors." 

Approximately 1.5 million veterans use the VA for their health care. Moghanaki talked about how, with the VA's vast network of care, their techniques are moving toward a cure.  

"We're actually just for the first time starting to throw around the cure word around people with metastatic lung cancer," he said. "We have patients who are enrolled in trials over a decade ago who had diffuse lung cancer all over their body. And now they've been off drug therapy for years. And there's no relapse."

The VA recommends annual screening for lung cancer in veterans aged 50 to 80 who have smoked for many years or have quit within the past 15 years. To learn more about the VA’s lung precision oncology program, visit here.

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