Tobi Clifford, an intelligent vibrant final year student in the university has been diagnosed with lung cancer. The journey hasn’t been an easy one as he says, it’s been an arduous one, but he has been beating all odds. He works on becoming stronger daily, he shares his struggles about how people think he is a chronic smoker. But he has never smoked a day in his life but has been surrounded by people that smoke almost throughout his life. As a new member of Move Against Cancer Africa – a nonprofit headquartered in Abuja – he intends to create awareness in the general public at large by sharing his experience and the information that smoking is not the only cause of lung cancer. There are other factors that cause lung cancer and he hopes to bring this to limelight so the world at large can be a better place to live in.
This November, in honor of Lung Cancer Awareness Month, Dr. Ray Osarogiagbon—a thoracic oncologist (doctor who specializes in the treatment of lung cancer)—has a message for the global health community.
Currently, Dr. Osarogiagbon serves as the Director of the Multidisciplinary Thoracic Oncology Program at Baptist Cancer Center in Memphis, Tennessee, the state with the 4thhighest burden of lung cancer in the United States. Dr. Osarogiagbon completed his medical school training at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria and came to the United States in 1992 intending to study sicklecell anemia. However, life had other plans: Dr. Osarogiagbon received fellowship training in haematology and medical oncology at the University of Minnesota and developed his interest in thoracic oncology at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Amarillo, Texas where hespent several years providing lung cancer care to US veterans.
Since 2005, he has worked in Memphis, Tennessee, where the lung cancer burden is high and where a lot of patients experience poverty and do not have access to good healthcare. Dr. Osarogiagbon is focused on helping all patients benefit from the latest advances, regardless of income level and where they live.
“As healthcare providers, it is our duty to ensure that our patients have access to the best care possible. The opportunity we have is across the spectrum—to be able to detect lung cancer early enough, to be able to treat it properly, and then to be able to support patients through their journey. And then there is even a greater opportunity–preventing lung cancer. That opportunity is actually part of the greatest chance that we have to make a difference,” says Dr. Osarogiagbon.
In several parts of the world with high incidence of tuberculosis, an infectious disease of the lungs, doctors often overlook a lung cancer diagnosis. According to Dr. Osarogiagbon, doctors should not ever rule out lung cancer as a possibility when a patient has respiratory symptoms. Lung cancer is a big public health challenge from a global health perspective and every effort should be made to ensure that patients are diagnosed and treated appropriately. “The challenge we have today is to encourage everybody—health care systems, public health care managers, doctors, nurses, and governments—to recognize the challenge that is lung cancer and also realize that once we recognize that challenge, the solutions are readily available to take home to people wherever they need that care,” he says.
Dr. Osarogiagbon has two important calls to action for the global health community. “As advocates, as caregivers, as clinicians involved in this challenge that is lung cancer, it is important to support each other. Because the enemy is the cancer and that enemy is present in every single one of our populations, rich or poor, irrespective of race. Lung cancer is not a respecter of race, or socioeconomics, or gender, of anything artificial or real that we put out there. If you have lungs, you can get lung cancer.”
He also reminds us of the power of collaboration and partnerships. “We have already learned a lot about different healthcare delivery models—what works and what doesn’t work. Information and infrastructure like that needs to be leveraged to support providers, patients, caregivers, and the various activists in the various communities to actually learn best practices to be able to bring the things that work into their own communities.” Dr. Osarogiagbon notes that international organizations such as the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer, which have members all over the globe, are well placed to share knowledge across different communities, countries, and populations.
The exciting thing today is that we have rapidly increasing options for diagnosing and effectively treating lung cancer in ways that are alreadyincreasingthe odds of survivorship. As Dr. Osarogiagbon beautifully summarizes in his message for the global community, “Now these new developments need to be brought to all the communities where patients are, so that everybody around the world can gain access to these drugs that save lives, these treatments that save lives.”