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The Case of Lung Cancer

Let’s face it. What we know about lung cancer is grim. It is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States for both men and women, and more than half of those with lung cancer die within one year of being diagnosed. The five year survival rate is only 18.6 percent, so that means that out of 100 people diagnosed, 82 of them don’t make it. The data alone is enough to be discouraging, but couple that with the stigma attached to the disease, and the people who have it, and the public perception about lung cancer becomes extremely negative.

The stigma attached to lung cancer comes mainly from the connection the disease has to smoking. For more almost seventy years now, we’ve known that lung cancer is a risk factor of smoking. Anti-smoking and tobacco campaigns have been successful in making sure the public understands that if we don’t want to get cancer, we shouldn’t smoke or use tobacco products. The good news is that as smoking rates have decreased, so have lung cancer rates. The bad news is that as lung cancer became known as a “smoker’s disease”, people began to believe that if you got lung cancer, you were to blame. As a result, lung cancer patients may feel that they receive less sympathy from their healthcare providers and others, and feel compelled to hide their condition causing them to suffer from guilt, anxiety, depression and isolation. Patients suffering from a stigmatized disease also may avoid or delay seeking treatment or a second opinion, and may receive lower quality of care. In addition, the clinical guidelines, diagnostics, and treatments for lung cancer aren’t as comprehensive as they are for the cancers without stigmas attached. Further, there is less research, data, and funding about how to increase lung cancer survival rates.

Often, it is the survivors of a disease, or family members who have lost a loved one, who form the advocacy groups, drive the fundraising efforts, and are the proponents for research. That hasn’t seemed to be the case for lung cancer for a couple of reasons. First, the stigma attached to lung cancer prevents survivors from speaking up because of the shame and guilt associated with having the disease. The stigma also appears to carry over to family members and others, such as celebrities and community leaders, who don’t feel comfortable advocating for those who are perceived to have caused their own illness. Secondly, lung cancer has a low survival rate, and, therefore, fewer survivors to lead the charge.

In order for the fight against lung cancer to have some of the same advances that less stigmatized cancers have, the public awareness needs to go beyond the labeling of lung cancer as a “smoker’s disease.” People who have never smoked, and those who quit many years ago, get lung cancer. Lung cancer can also be genetic. There are many risk factors for lung cancer in addition to smoking. They include: being exposed to secondhand smoke, asbestos, arsenic, chromium, beryllium, nickel, soot, or tar; exposure to radiation therapy to the breast or chest, radon, and imaging tests such as CT scans; living where there is air pollution; and a family history of lung cancer. While we don’t want to diminish the risk of smoking and the benefits of giving it up, it is important to note that not all smokers get lung cancer, and not all people with lung cancer are smokers.

Despite the stigma and negative public perception, there are organizations such as the American Lung Association and Patient Empowerment Network who are working to reduce the stigma of lung cancer and raise awareness about the disease. The PEN Living Well with Lung Cancer series is a live-streamed webinar program where patients, and their family members and caregivers, have the opportunity to interact with experts in the lung cancer field. The programs include panel discussions and a question and answer session. The program is recorded and made available through our website. PEN also provides town meetings and conference coverage with topics pertinent to those affected by lung cancer. Through our Notable News posts on our blog, we strive to provide patients with information about the latest advancements in all cancers, including lung cancer. This month you’ll discover that there is good news about lung cancer, thanks to new findings about sugar and cancer’s attraction to it. You can find that information and other updates here.

It is important for lung cancer patients, and all cancer patients, to maintain focus on the good news and to have hope. Every 2.5 minutes, someone in the US is told that they have lung cancer. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they could also be told that there is hope?


Sources:

https://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/lungb.html

https://www.lung.org/assets/documents/research/addressing-the-stigma-of-lung-cancer.pdf

https://www.cancer.gov/types/lung/patient/non-small-cell-lung-treatment-pdq#section/all

https://scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org/2018/11/16/science-surgery-why-do-never-smokers-get-lung-cancer/

Notable News: June 2018

There’s a little something for everyone in the news this month. Immunotherapy looks promising for men; lung cancer does not. More women can forego chemo, and African Americans and Latinos have a new warning sign. Preventable cancers are on the rise, but your amount of alcohol consumption might help you change that. There’s a lot of news this month, and it’s all right here so you can pay attention and stay empowered.

Speaking of paying attention, African Americans and Latinos have a new pancreatic cancer warning sign. Recent findings show late-onset diabetes, after age 50, is an early sign of pancreatic cancer in African Americans and Latinos, according to this report from accessatlanta.com. The link between diabetes and pancreatic cancer is still unclear, but the study showed that African Americans were three times as likely to get pancreatic cancer after developing diabetes, and Latinos were four times as likely. While pancreatic cancer is rare, you should discuss your risk with your doctor should you get a late-onset diabetes diagnosis.

Another new report offers good news for women. New evidence shows that many women with breast cancer can forego chemotherapy as part of their treatment, reports washingtonpost.com. Findings from the federally sponsored, largest ever breast cancer trial indicate that women who have the most common type of early-stage breast cancer, with low and moderate risk of recurrence, don’t require chemo after surgery and won’t be subject to the often harmful side effects. The study previously showed that women with low-risk of recurrence didn’t need chemotherapy, but there was some question about those with moderate risk. After further study of patients with moderate risk, researchers determined that those who did not undergo chemo did as well as those who did. The type of cancer studied is hormone-driven, has not spread to the lymph nodes, and does not contain the HER2 protein. The findings affect more than 85,000 women per year and are expected to change the way early-stage breast cancer is treated. More information can be found here.

There’s also good news for some men. An early stage trial that was presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology finds that immunotherapy looks promising as a treatment for some prostate cancer patients, reports bbc.com. Unfortunately, the treatment doesn’t work for the majority of patients, with only 10 to 15 percent of patients having any response to the treatment. Researchers are hoping to determine which patients are most likely to respond. More information can be found here.

However, worldwide the news is not quite as positive. Lifestyle cancers are on the rise and increased prevention is needed, reports sciencedaily.com. Lung, colorectal, and skin cancers have all increased worldwide over the past ten years while other cancers have decreased, according to the Global Burden of Diseases (GBD) study in which researchers analyzed 29 cancers and then reported their findings based on age and sex for 195 countries and territories. Lung and colorectal cancers are the leading causes of cancer deaths worldwide despite the fact that they can be preventable with such things as dietary changes and reduction in tobacco usage. The GBD also found that the United States was the third leading country in new cases of cancer per 100,000 people in 2016. Australia and New Zealand were the first and second respectively. Syria was the lowest in both new cases of cancer and cancer deaths per 100,000 in 2016. The country with the highest rate of cancer deaths per 100,000 in 2016 was Mongolia. Here you can find the full list of cancers analyzed in the GBD and where they are most likely to occur worldwide.

In other lifestyle news, your alcohol intake may be affecting your health. Less alcohol means less cancer or death, reports livescience.com. A new study reveals that light alcohol drinkers (fewer than seven glasses per week) had a lower risk of cancer and death than those who drank more alcohol or no alcohol at all. The study combines the risks of cancer and death from other causes whereas most studies pertaining to cancer risk and alcohol don’t factor in various causes of death. The combination of the two addresses the role of alcohol in overall health. More about whether or not you should put down your wine glass can be found here.

Finally, those cancers pertaining to lifestyle are often likely to come with stigmas attached to them. While most people believe lung cancer is preventable and caused by smoking, forbes.com contributor Bonnie J. Addario offers a different perspective about the stigma of lung cancer and how it has hindered research. Smoking is not the only cause of lung cancer, Addario points out. In fact, she states, 70 percent of lung cancer patients have long-since quit smoking or never smoked at all. Lung cancer, as we learned above, is the leading cause of cancer death worldwide, and Addario notes it is the leading cause of cancer death for both men and women in the United States. Perhaps it’s time we look at lung cancer differently, as Addario advocates here. It’s worth the read.