From asthma to lung cancer, lung disease affects patients in a variety of manners. Respiratory diseases are the third leading cause of death in the United States, and lung cancer is the number one cancer killer.

However, in recent years, we have made big strides in treatment of both common and rare diseases that affect the lungs. Here are three examples of advancements impacting patients.

1. Medications for asthma

Many people, especially those with mild or moderate asthma, can control their condition with current treatments. Standard medications and inhalers don’t always work for those whose asthma is severe. In the last few years, researchers have been exploring new treatments utilizing antibodies that target and neutralize the molecules that contribute to asthma. Three asthma biologic drugs have now been approved by the FDA and, in patients with the right characteristics, these types of medications can be very successful in controlling asthma. For example, in one study, mepolizumab was shown to reduce the rate of asthma flares by about 50 percent.

2. Immunotherapy benefits

Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer of both men and women. Each year, more people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast and prostate cancers combined. For those with advanced lung cancer, a new option is helping some patients live longer. Immunotherapy uses drugs that allow the patient’s own immune system to fight off cancer cells. The approach has been used in other cancers, but has only recently shown promising results in helping to prolong the survival of some patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer. At this point, doctors have found that not everyone responds to immunotherapy the same way. It only works for some people. Studies are underway to identify those who are most likely to benefit from this treatment, and researchers think this is an area that holds plenty of hope for hard-to-treat cancers.

3. More lungs for transplant

Among organs for transplantation, lungs are particularly prone to damage before they can be removed from the donor. Because of this, surgeons are only able to use about 20 percent of the lungs identified for donation. Thus, less than 2,000 lung transplants are performed each year in the United States — far less than the number of patients waiting for this lifesaving procedure.   Now, researchers are looking for ways to use more lungs from the donor pool. They are testing a method called ex-vivo lung perfusion (EVLP), in hopes it can reverse lung injury, remove excess water and revive lungs that would have once been considered unsuitable for transplantation. In this technique, lungs are removed from the donor and placed in a special machine. There, they are treated with oxygen and a solution to remove fluid and improve their function. Initial experience has demonstrated that approximately 80 percent of the lungs subjected to EVLP can be successfully utilized. Doctors hope that in time this technology could substantially increase the donor pool and ultimately lead to more transplants.