The stigma of lung cancer — do smokers “deserve” lung cancer? (No!)


A very interesting opinion piece that I can personally relate to, about the continuing stigma of lung cancer.

I have on a number of occasions no matter how incredibly hard I try to bend over backward to not attack smokers or act superior to smokers either online or in real life, been accused of being down on smokers. I think part of this is because many smokers deep down inside put up with constant stigma over their smoking and frankly, get understandably defensive about it, because hey, we all have some bad habits and none of us are perfect.

Anyway, that stigma also applies to lung cancer. Lung cancer is the most deadly form of cancer; more people die of lung cancer in the U.S. than the next four types of cancer — combined. Smoking is in fact the primary cause of lung cancer — about 85 percent of the people who get lung cancer are either smokers or former smokers.

But, that also means that 15 percent of those people with lung cancer are nonsmokers (20 percent of women who get lung cancer are nonsmokers). Lung cancer not only has an environmental component, it has a genetic component. There is a reason why only 10 percent of smokers die of lung cancer. It’s bad luck+a bad habit.

Dr. Lecia V. Sequist, (a medical oncologist at  Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, an associate professor of medicine Harvard Medical School. and a member of the LUNGevity Foundation Scientific Advisory Board), writes on, about the stigma of lung cancer and the mentality of that people who die of lung cancer “did it to themselves.” The stigma has resulted in a lot of grant monies and donations going toward finding cures for cancers other than lung cancer.

It’s something I can relate to because I have been very guilty of hearing about someone dying of lung cancer, and then immediately blurting out, “were they a smoker?” I really, really try not to do that anymore.

Dr. Sequist writes:

Tell a friend or colleague that your aunt just found out she has lung cancer. Almost always the response will be, “Did she smoke?” Then tell someone else that your aunt just found out she has breast cancer, or colon cancer, or any other type of cancer you can think of. This time the response will be pure sympathy, without any blame attached.

I don’t think people necessarily do this for a bad reason. I think it’s a normal reaction of “well it couldn’t happen to me … I don’t smoke.”

This is interesting, according to to Dr. Sequist, (and I have never seen these numbers before and am still digesting them) 60 percent of new lung cancer cases are among nonsmokers and former smokers — not current smokers. Wow, that a high number (remember that 15 percent number I quoted earlier). What that tells me is a lot of people are acknowledging that smoking is really bad for them, quitting, and then 10 years later being diagnosed with lung cancer. That is one of the cruelties of lung cancer. Even if you do the right thing and quit, your risk of lung cancer decreases … but it is still higher than a person who never smoked.

And as far as how smoking is affecting funding, this paragraph from Dr. Sequist:

Unfortunately, the stigma associated with lung cancer has translated to a massive inequality in research funding. When analyzing the combined 2012 cancer research dollars granted by federal organizations, for every woman who dies of breast cancer, more than $26,000 in federal research funding is devoted to breast cancer research. But for every woman who dies of lung cancer, just over $1,000 federal dollars are invested. The difference is staggering.

So, basically breast cancer is receiving 26 times more funding per cancer case than lung cancer among women. Wow.

As far as the attitude that people who smoke and die and lung cancer getting what they deserve, all I can say is how is your glass house? Are you overweight? Do you drink? Smoke pot? Take prescription drugs? Last perfect person died 2,000 years ago. (Even on this article, there is some snot-nosed troll spending hours pissing on smokers with lung cancer. One of the reasons I don’t comment on CNN stories.)

I watched my dad slowly drown in his own bodily fluids at the age of 49. I can’t imagine a worse way to go, honestly. No one deserves that. No one. Not Adolph Hitler, not anyone. So, no, no one “deserves” lung cancer.

8 thoughts on “The stigma of lung cancer — do smokers “deserve” lung cancer? (No!)”

  1. NO “GOOD” PERSON DESERVES CANCER. I disagree on Hitler and evil doers. I don’t think I know anyone who has/died of lung cancer however, if I did I probably would express my sympathies first but I cannot deny that soon after I would say something about their smoking habit.

    I think most rational people react this way and that it is done without malice, same goes for alcoholics—I find it interesting that you mention obese people, there is a new awareness out there and there are those who will target them i.e health insurance premiums.

    I find it deplorable that there is such a huge discrepancy in research funding, this needs to be fixed. I am vocal about “idiot” smokers, when I talk about them I specifically refer to real jerks who have no regard for others. I have no problem–though I wish they never smoked-with smokers who take care not to blow smoke on other people’s faces. Saying that even the jerks don’t deserve cancer…Monsters however, I beg your pardon, can die in from the most horrific diseases imaginable.

  2. Thanks, Pepe, for saying this because it has to be said. No one deserves cancer. Our health care system should treat all these diseases the same with care and feeling. I remember when AIDS was blamed on the gays (still is in some circles) and people shunned them, unsympathetically. Makes me weep sometimes for the world we live in.

  3. I so tottally agree, thank you for posting these facts; no one deserves cancer, for any reason.

  4. Greetings Haru, Pepe….i am here with you..never have smoked and have seen friends and family going through the struggle and not able to stop.

    Wonderful site thanks for the bread crumbs in my way…;)
    Bookmarked this one.

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