I Was Never ‘Just’ a Breast Cancer Researcher

Andrew hard at work in the lab.

Andrew Ciupek

By Andrew Ciupek, PhD, Clinical Research Coordinator / Clinical Trials Navigator

Before I joined Lung Cancer Alliance (LCA) this September, I was a breast cancer researcher. My research focus was on targeted therapy and why it stopped working in some patients.

Whenever I presented any results from my research, I showed a graphic stating that breast cancer was the second leading cause of cancer death in U.S. women as background.

Even though I was focused on breast cancer, my eyes were always drawn to the top spot on that graphic- lung cancer. I couldn’t help myself from asking, “How can we get that number to go down?” When an opportunity to work in LCA’s research department presented itself, I thought back to that graphic and knew this was a chance for me to change that statistic.

My experiences in the breast cancer community gave me some very valuable insights. I saw that improving cancer care requires more than just new therapeutics options. I was fortunate to often meet breast cancer patients in the clinic, where I’d discuss their journey and the most important “front lines” issues.

There, I began to see beyond my narrow world at the lab bench. I became interested in issues such as screening and prevention, survivorship and equal access. New treatments can’t help patients if they can’t get them. At LCA, I’m involved in research into all these issues and more, extending my skills and finding solutions to affect the “total care” of cancer patients.

I also learned the impact of community and public dialogue on the success of cancer research. Overwhelming amounts of support and advocacy surround the breast cancer community, leading to awareness and research funding that has resulted in increased prevention and survival.

In contrast, the lack of research funding and public attention for lung cancer confused me at first, especially since it takes the lives of so many more people than breast cancer. While breast cancer research has informed studies in other cancer types, sparking progress across the cancer continuum, the effect could be even stronger with a focus on lung cancer.

I remember saying to my colleagues that if every cancer had this kind of support, we would see results across the board. The breast cancer community also has a strong atmosphere of hope. Many patients approached their journey with a positive attitude- and the public seemed to pull for them.

For lung cancer however, the stigma of smoking is everywhere and hope can be absent from the public and even many patients. To drive progress, we need to change the message from one of stigma and apathy to one of support and hope. At LCA, I am more than just my research work- I can support our mission to be a catalyst to change the message and bring about the community that is needed.

I never saw the need to color my work only in shades of pink; I was never just a “breast cancer researcher.” I want to find new ways to increase survival and prevention, improve clinical care quality and access, and quality of life for both lung cancer patients and survivors – because no one deserves to die.