Facing Up To The Stigma Of Lung Cancer

A diagnosis of lung cancer carries with it a stigma that can add an increased burden to those coping with the disease. Some patients feel they can't disclose their illness or reach out for help for fear of being judged and blamed for having a "self-inflicted" disease. 

Anti-smoking campaigns over the past decades have focused on the link between tobacco and lung cancer. While these campaigns have contributed to decreasing the number of smokers and raising awareness about smoking-related health issues, they have also contributed to creating a distorted perception in the public’s mind that smoking is the sole cause of lung cancer. This has ultimately affected the public empathy shown to people living with lung cancer. 

Although the connection between smoking and lung cancer cannot be denied, did you know that as many as 20 percent of deaths caused by lung cancer occur in people who do not smoke? Other factors also cause lung cancer, including exposure to radon, air pollution, genetic mutations, carcinogens such as asbestos, and second-hand smoke. And yet, despite this, for many people with lung cancer, the very first question they are asked is “did you smoke?”   

Lung cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer, with more than 2,000,000 people diagnosed worldwide each year, and is the leading cause of cancer death globally. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most stigmatized of all cancers. Results of a study published in 2015 in the journal, Lung Cancer reported that lung cancer attracted higher stigma scores than breast and cervical cancer on all subscales. According to the American Lung Association, “this has kept lung cancer in the shadows.”

We know that stigma is associated with negative psychosocial and medical outcomes, including delayed diagnoses, poor quality of life,  disease-related distress, and poorer health outcomes in lung cancer patients.

This #LungCancerAwarenessMonth, let's change the conversation about the disease. Instead of asking a person with lung cancer "did you smoke?" with all its attendant blame and shame, offer words of support instead. Try asking the person how you can help them deal with a disease that no one deserves to face alone.

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