NBC News: The continuing stigma of lung cancer and lack of funding for lung cancer research

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NBC News/Courtesy of Emily Bennett Taylor — Emily Bennett Taylor and her husband Miles in 2013, celebrating NED or “no evidence of disease.” Today, Emily Bennett Taylor is cancer-free after chemotherapy, lung surgery and radiation.

This is a really heartbreaking story. There is a stigma surrounding lung cancer like no other cancer which is reflected in the lack of funding for lung cancer research compared to breast cancer and other kinds of cancer.

The reason why is pretty obvious: “Well, people who get lung cancer did it to themselves.”

There you have it in a nutshell. The feeling that people with lung cancer somehow “asked for it,” whereas people with other kinds of cancer did not. Because as we all know, the bulk of lung cancer cases happens among smokers.

NBC News did a big story on this today, focusing to a large degree on lung cancer among women. First of all, about 20 percent of women who get lung cancer have never smoked a cigarette in their lives (and roughly 10 percent of men).

Here’s a couple of shocking stats from NBC:

According to the Washington, D.C.-based Lung Cancer Alliance, for every person who dies of breast cancer, $26,000 is spent on research funds, yet less than $1,500 is allocated for those who die of lung cancer.

Activist Arielle Densen lost her mother, a nonsmoker, to lung cancer, and is on a mission to bring awareness to the issue during November, Lung Cancer Awareness Month.

“The statistics on lung cancer are so staggering and so many young, non-smoking individuals are dying from this disease and no one is really talking about it,” Densen said.

“If you factor in private donations, the funding gap widens incredibly,” she said. “Susan G. Komen alone raised $428 million in 2012; whereas the largest lung cancer groups bring in about $3 to $4 million a year.”

Those attitudes that people with lung cancer “did it to themselves” and “asked for it,” is directly reflected in the lack of funding for research. Christ, Susan G. Komen (breast cancer) brings in 100 times more than the largest lung cancer fundraising group? I don’t want to get into a “what’s worse, breast cancer or lung cancer?” debate because all cancer sucks, but this is a shocking number to me.

From NBC:

“One of the big problems is there is such a big association in the public’s mind between smoking and lung cancer,” said Dr. Lecia Sequist, a medical oncologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

“No one deserves to get lung cancer,” Sequist added. “But we are seeing a lot of patients who never smoked or smoked years ago or only in small amounts. We just don’t know why.”

Keep in mind that even though fewer women than men get lung cancer, lung cancer is still the No. 1 cancer killer among women (It’s been the runaway No. 1 cancer killer among men for decades.) 108,000 women in the U.S. get lung cancer every year, and about 72,000 of them die from it, according to NBC.

Interestingly, doctors in the article say they are seeing more lung cancer cases among nonsmokers. No one knows why. It could be other poisons in the environment. One thing to keep in mind about lung cancer — lung cancer is both a genetic disease and an environmental disease. If you have certain gene markers, smoker or not, your risk of lung cancer is increased, so you don’t have to be a smoker to get lung cancer (However, if you have those gene markers and you smoke, your chances of getting lung cancer are really high. )

I hate that this stigma is still around and how much it affects funding for lung cancer cures. It’s painful that one of the first questions people ask when someone dies of lung cancer is “oh, did they smoke?” (And yes, on this blog, I have been guilty of focusing on smokers who have died from lung cancer, it’s not 100 percent, but it’s still 85 percent — the No.  1 risk factor by a longshot for lung cancer is and will continue to be smoking.).

Remember, anyone that has watched someone die of lung cancer — no one deserves that. And no one asked for it.

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