As we close the doors on Lung Cancer Awareness Month, do you wonder why it went by completely unpublicized? Why the NFL players didn’t sport incongruous ribbons and accessories in the color designated for the illness? IS there a color designated for lung cancer, a disease that kills more than 156,000 people per year? That’s more than 443 every day…and yet it remains a dirty little secret in a world of highly publicized causes.
Lung cancer is widely perceived as the fault of the victim, much like obesity. People not only blame the victims, but actively resent them. The unspoken thought is that people who get lung cancer deserve it because they smoke. This stigma persists regardless of whether a victim smoked before diagnosis or not.
Proportionately, less money is spent on lung cancer research, even though lung cancer leads to more deaths than breast cancer, brain cancer, colon cancer, ovarian cancer, skin cancer, and leukemia combined. Cancers perceived as women’s issues – like breast, cervical, and ovarian cancers – get plenty of press. Events are organized, celebrities get involved, public service announcements are filmed, ribbons are donned, and money pours in… But there is no such outcry for the much deadlier affliction of lung cancer. The distasteful taint of smoking makes victims, and the cause itself, virtually invisible to fundraising enthusiasts.
The death rate for breast cancer has declined drastically in the last few decades, due in part to the support and awareness that easily translates to research dollars. The end result is quantifiable. Five years after diagnosis, nine out of ten breast cancer victims will still be alive. For lung cancer victims, the figure is four in ten survivors after five years.
It may be a little cynical to say that the lack of publicity may be due to fewer survivors – and to the health of those who do survive. It’s inspiring to watch hordes of pink-clad survivors walking triumphantly, full of energy and determination as they raise money for the cause – somewhat less so to watch feeble lung cancer survivors wheel little oxygen carts as they wheeze to draw breath.
While the leading cause of lung cancer is smoking, not all victims are smokers. Some are exposed to second-hand smoke and some have other issues, like asbestosis or mesothelioma. It’s easy to be judgmental for those who do smoke, but smokers often become addicted when they are very young and find themselves unable to break the addiction by the time they should know better.
Is a Vaccine on the Horizon?
There’s no reliable method of early detection, but there is encouraging news in the science of treatment. Researchers in Britain are launching a clinical trial of a therapeutic vaccine that was developed in Cuba. The purpose of the vaccine is to control the spread of advanced-stage lung cancer. The vaccine, called Cimavax-EGF, was successfully tested in Cuba on over a thousand patients. Trials are also planned in Austria, Thailand, Malaysia, and several Central and South American countries.
Have you noticed the social stigma associated with lung cancer? As a medical professional how would you address it?