Dr. Anne Tsao

The United States Center for Disease Control noted that in 2007, the last year for which accurate figures are available, more than 158,000 people in the United States died of lung cancer. The risk of developing the disease, they note, increases with age and is greater in men than in women. Though the incidence of the disease has indeed decreased in the last decade, lung cancer still remains a major concern…especially for medical professionals such as Dr. Anne Tsao who – each day – sees the ravages of the disease firsthand.

Dr. Tsao is considered one of the nation’s top experts in the treatment of thoracic cancers, which includes all types of lung cancer and other lung-related cancers such as malignant mesothelioma, which generally affects the pleura, which is the lining of the lungs. Tsao, a graduate of the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine, is an Associate Professor in the department of Thoracic/Head and Neck Medical Oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and is also the head of the hospital’s mesothelioma program.

As such, Tsao spends much of her time researching new and better ways to treat various types of lung cancer. She has penned numerous peer-reviewed articles about lung cancer and mesothelioma treatment, most recently covering the subject of proton beam therapy in conjunction with standard chemotherapy in the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer.

In addition, Tsao’s current area of concentration is focused on so-called Maintenance Therapy for non-small cell lung cancer patients. Maintenance Therapy occurs after front line systemic treatment. Dr. Tsao has researched two types of this FDA-approved treatment: continuation maintenance, which involves the use of the agent that was given in first-line therapy; and switch maintenance, which initiates the use of a different chemotherapeutic agent that was not used in first-line therapy.

Tsao is hopeful that her continued research into more successful treatments for patients with diseases such as mesothelioma, which has traditionally been quite difficult to fight, will result in a further decrease of incidences of the disease, which often attacks veterans who worked in the nation’s shipyards from the 1930s through the 1970s and others exposed to asbestos on-the-job.

Dr. Tsao also stresses the importance of heading to a major cancer center for treatment of any types of lung cancer, especially mesothelioma.

“I've been told by so many patients that come here that they were given no hope whatsoever back at home, and this is why I think it's critical that all patients with mesothelioma be seen at a major cancer center that specializes in this disease,” Tsao stressed in a 2009 interview. “We do have a very large program at M. D. Anderson. In fact, it's one of the largest in the United States that specializes in this rare tumor type. And what makes us even more unique is not only do we have the clinical research program but we have a very active laboratory-based program as well because we're trying to find a cure for this tumor.”

This is the third in a series of thoracic oncology physician spotlights we'll be featuring throughout the month of November in observance of Lung Cancer Awareness Month.