NFL Veteran Chris Draft Tackles Lung Cancer AwarenessNov 1, 2012
Former NFL linebacker Chris Draft wants everybody to know the disturbing facts about lung cancer: that it kills more people than breast, prostate, colon, liver, and melanoma skin cancer combined. That it’s most often diagnosed in stage IV, when the cancer has already spread and is hard to treat. And that every year, 16,000 to 24,000 Americans die of lung cancer even though they have never smoked.
Draft said, “If people don’t know the numbers, how can we do something about it? How can we change that?”
Draft’s wife Keasha, a professional dancer, died of lung cancer at age 38 in November 2011, just one month after their wedding. Her only symptom was some shortness of breath while training to run a 10-kilometer event. Even though she went to the doctor right away, she was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer that had already spread to her brain. She had never smoked.
Keasha’s battle motivated Draft to learn more about cancer research and use his celebrity to help raise awareness. Draft partnered with the American Cancer Society to enroll in the Cancer Prevention Study-3 (CPS-3) and make a video to encourage others to join. Draft enrolled in his hometown of Atlanta, but enrollment sites are also active in local communities across the US. The American Cancer Society study will help researchers understand more about the causes of and ways to prevent cancer.
What’s new in research
Researchers are learning more and more about what causes cells to become cancerous, and how lung cancer cells differ between nonsmokers and smokers. For example, we now know that a particular kind of gene mutation is much more common in lung cancer in nonsmokers than smokers.
This mutation activates the gene for epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), a protein found on the surface of cells. It normally helps the cells to grow and divide. The mutation causes the gene to be turned on constantly, so the lung cancer cells have too much EGFR, which causes them to grow faster.
Knowing what causes the cell changes has helped researchers develop targeted therapies, drugs that specifically attack these mutations. One example is a drug called erlotinib (Tarceva), which has been shown to help keep some lung tumors under control by blocking EGFR from signaling the cell to grow. This drug is much more likely to be helpful in nonsmokers with lung cancer than in smokers.
Much more research into the genetic makeup of lung cancer in nonsmokers is still needed in order to further define risk factors that contribute to lung cancer in nonsmokers, and to develop new therapies to treat the disease.
During the year that Keasha battled cancer, the Drafts launched “Team Draft” in Atlanta to raise money for lung cancer research, raise awareness about lung cancer, and provide inspiration to lung cancer patients and caregivers.
Draft said that even when his wife was close to death, Keasha continued to hope and continued to fight. He believes that by sharing her story and the stories of other nonsmokers diagnosed with lung cancer, he can boost support for lung cancer research that will eventually save lives. By challenging the perception that lung cancer patients contributed to their own illness by smoking, Team Draft hopes to reverse what it calls a stigma that negatively impacts lung cancer research funding.
Draft said after her diagnosis, Keasha chose to live life, dance, and smile, and inspired others to do the same. Draft said, “When someone has cancer, don’t just ask about treatment. Let them live along this journey. Take them to movies, soccer games, barbeques, whatever it is to be able to continue to live.”