ERASING THE STIGMA
Helping to Rewrite the Future of Lung Cancer
ERASING THE STIGMA
Simply put: Lung cancer is wholly misunderstood and doesn’t receive the attention and support it deserves. In fact, it’s shocking, the degree to which cancer research funding neglects lung cancer.
Lung cancer is the single most lethal cancer, yet it receives the least amount of research dollars from the National Cancer Institute and private cancer research institutions — by far. Lung cancer receives just $1,831 in federal research funds per death, compared to $4,582 for colorectal cancer and $13,406 for breast cancer.
Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer of both men and women in the U.S., second only to heart disease in overall cause of death. The overall 5-year survival rate (5-20%) for lung cancer has barely budged in the last 40 years, compared to the next three most common cancers (breast, prostate and colon), which all now have excellent 5-year survival rates. In fact, the overall 5-year survival rate for breast cancer is now approaching 90%, thanks to fantastic fundraising efforts by breast cancer survivors and their loved ones.
Why doesn’t lung cancer get the support it so desperately needs? Stigma is largely to blame. Stigma ultimately leads to a lack of public awareness. The result? A lack of research funding.
The stigma associated with lung cancer is very real. It’s an obstacle that discourages research funding, erodes support for those suffering with lung cancer, and limits public awareness of the clinical realities of lung cancer, ultimately diminishing public will to eradicate it. The consequences of this stigma have been disastrous to lung cancer research funding and, ultimately, of course, to the people whose lives that might have been saved by the new treatments that research discovered.
Let’s examine the roots of this deadly stigma…
IT’S NOT JUST SMOKING?
When someone is diagnosed with lung cancer, the first question people tend to ask is: Are you a smoker? After all, we’ve all been told, again and again, that lung cancer is a “smoker’s disease,” a condition that is self-inflicted, thus perhaps “deserved.” While it’s true that smoking can lead to lung cancer, the reality is that up to 70% of newly diagnosed lung cancer patients either never smoked or quit decades ago. In fact, a growing number of those diagnosed with lung cancer are athletes under 39-years-old who never smoked.
Stigma is a shame-and-blame game that hurts everyone who is living with this disease, will die from this disease, or will develop this devastating disease in the future… regardless of their smoking history.
And the truth is, the smoking question is irrelevant. Everyone suffering from lung cancer deserves compassion. Everyone deserves a fighting chance. Do we ask those suffering from other types of cancer if they engaged in a particular activity that caused their cancer? Of course not! So why is it acceptable to ask those with lung cancer if they’re smokers?
A lung cancer diagnosis is typically viewed as a death sentence. What’s implied is that efforts to save its victims will likely be pointless anyway, and that research funding should be directed elsewhere, “where it will do more good.”
But nothing could be further from the truth. Brilliant scientists are willing and able to find new lung cancer treatment options that improve survivorship and quality of life. They simply need the public support and the funding to identify those solutions. The poor survival rate for lung cancer is a direct result of the lack of funding for lung cancer research.
This misguided belief that lung cancer research is futile creates a classic Catch-22 paradox with tragic consequences: lack of new research and clinical trials only makes it more likely that a lung cancer diagnosis will, in fact, be a death sentence.
Project Breathing Hope is dedicated to changing these odds.
HOW DO WE ERASE THE STIGMA?
First, we can increase public awareness of the statistical reality that roughly 70% of lung cancer victims are non-smokers. The truest statistical reality is this: If you have lungs, you can get lung cancer.
The public needs to understand that the leading cause of cancer-related death among women is not breast cancer — it’s lung cancer. Lung cancer kills almost twice as many women as breast cancer; in fact, it’s estimated that more then 70,000 American women will die of lung cancer in 2018. More and more young non-smokers (especially women) are being diagnosed with lung cancer. That’s a fact. (Source: American Cancer Society).
Second, we can inspire compassion for all of lung cancer’s victims by sharing its victims’ stories, elevating lung cancer in the public consciousness, and educating the public by debunking the myths about lung cancer.
The powerful combination of education and inspiration has the power to erase the stigma associated with lung cancer, once and for all. Erasing the stigma is the first step in rewriting the future of lung cancer.
For ideas on how you can help in ways both large and small, visit our Get Involved page