Stigma. Defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary as a set of negative and often unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something. They could have just as easily defined it with the words “LUNG CANCER”.
Lung cancer still remains the most deadly of all cancers and causes more deaths in the United States each year than breast, colorectal and prostate cancers combined. And, although November has been designated as Lung Cancer Awareness month, we do not see throngs of survivors and advocates, marching in a sea of white ribbons, fighting for more research and advocating for greater awareness and support for those facing lung cancer.
Stigmas of Lung Cancer
- Smoking causes lung cancer; therefore, only smokers get lung cancer. If you have lungs, you can get lung cancer. As many as 20% of those who die from lung cancer in the United States every year have NEVER smoked. The reality is that there are many risk factors for lung cancer:
- Second-Hand Smoke
- Radon Gas Exposure
- Air Pollution
- Family History
- “It’s their fault” for getting lung cancer because they chose to smoke. Blaming those diagnosed reduces public empathy for those with lung cancer. During the month of October, our communities are painted pink for breast cancer awareness and we wrap our arms around and celebrate survivors. The month of November is conspicuously quiet when it comes to Lung Cancer Awareness.
- Lung cancer is a death sentence. Yes, lung cancer is still a very deadly disease, but there is HOPE. Low Dose CT scans have increased early detection and better outcomes for lung cancer patients. There have also been significant advances in the treatment of lung cancer, including:
- Targeted Therapy: drugs target specific genes and proteins involved in the growth and survival of cancer genes
- Immunotherapy: boosts the body’s natural defenses to fight cancer
Stigmas and their Negative Effects on Lung Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment
- Avoidance and delay in seeking care. Feelings of guilt, blame, and fear often cause delays in seeking care and receiving support.
- Patients often blame themselves. They don’t feel empowered to speak up and discuss their diagnosis. This makes it difficult to build a supportive community that can advocate and fight for more research funding and greater awareness for those facing a lung cancer diagnosis.
- Increased illness-related distress which is linked to poor health outcomes.
- Isolates lung cancer patients instead of uniting a supportive community lifting one another up in hope.
How Can We Reduce the Stigma of Lung Cancer?
The first step is understanding that no one deserves lung cancer. Many non-smokers and former smokers who quit decades ago face lung cancer diagnoses.
Let’s talk about the prevalence and severity of this disease.
Let’s build an increased awareness and a sense of urgency around more funding for research.
Let’s talk about new advances in research and treatment options and bring a message of HOPE to those facing this disease.
Finally, let’s put a human face to lung cancer. A mother, father, son, daughter. Or, for me, my grandmother, Helen Elizabeth Heinrich McGowan. A vibrant and beautiful woman taken from our family much too soon.
This month I’ll be wearing my white lung cancer awareness ribbon to honor my grandmother and to help spread awareness of this insidious disease. Let’s embrace our lung cancer family, friends, and neighbors and lift them up with Hope, Love and Light.
Halifax Health – Center for Oncology is a long-established and well-known leader in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer. If you have questions about lung cancer screenings or a recent lung cancer diagnosis, please call Jennifer Lanni, Lung Navigator, at 386.425.LUNG. For more information about Halifax Health – Center for Oncology, please visit halifaxhealth.org/cancercare.
Barbara Tiplady is a Marketing Specialist for Halifax Health. She is passionate about promoting cancer awareness and bringing hope to our community for better outcomes through prevention and advanced treatment options.