“The path to success is to take massive, determined action.” Self-help author Tony Robbins is on to something. To successfully beat lung cancer, meaningful action on a grand scale is required. November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, a time when lung cancer survivors, families, caregivers, advocates and fundraisers focus their efforts like a laser to increase awareness of this disease.
Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer, but researchers are working to find better screening methods to catch lung cancer earlier, and better treatments to improve survival rates. Between 2003 and 2012, the number of cases of lung cancer and death rates declined.
So there’s hope.
Here’s where we stand in 2016 and what you can do to help prevent lung cancer, raise awareness of the disease and promote research.
The facts about lung cancer
- As the leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide, each year lung cancer kills 1.6 million people, more than breast, colon and prostate cancer combined.
- Lung cancer is caused by smoking, secondhand smoke, workplace exposure to carcinogens, genetics, radon gas in homes (20,000 deaths per year) and cancer treatments.
- Each year, 31,000 people die from nonsmoking-related lung cancer, about the same number who die from prostate cancer.
- In 2012, the tobacco industry spent more than 40 times more on tobacco advertising and promotion in the U.S. than the National Institutes of Health spent on lung cancer research: $9.6 billion versus $233 million.
Money, money, money
Should funds for cancer research be focused on the most common cancers, the most deadly or those that evoke the most empathy? It’s a question that regularly stumps the cancer research community.
In 2006, the National Cancer Institute proposed a $6 billion budget for ongoing general research and for specific cancers. A review of the funding for the five biggest cancers revealed a large disparity in money spent relative to each cancer death and each new case of cancer. Lung cancer was awarded the least funding among major cancers, $1,630 for each lung cancer death. Breast cancer, in comparison, received the most funding: $13,452 for each breast cancer death.
Money to find better screening and treatments is crucial because doctors often find lung cancer in later stages, when it’s less treatable.
In 2013, a new federal law required the National Cancer Institute to make comprehensive research plans for high-mortality cancers, with priority going to lung and pancreatic cancer.
The stigma of lung cancer
Lung cancer lags in support and funding for research partly because of the strong, pervasive stigma associated with this disease.
Decades of anti-tobacco campaigns have saved hundreds of thousands of lives by preventing smoking and encouraging people to quit. But there’s speculation that these campaigns also have been incredibly successful in sealing the connection between smoking and lung cancer in the public’s mind.
The unintended consequence has been to create stigma. Lung cancer has become known as “smoker’s disease,” creating the damaging perception that people with lung cancer have brought it on themselves.
What can you do?
If you’ve been a smoker, ask your health care provider if you should be screened for lung cancer. You qualify if you are 55 to 77 years old and smoked at least one pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years, and either still smoke or quit in the past 15 years. If you do smoke now, ask your provider about programs to quit.
If you or a loved one has lung cancer, talk to your provider to learn about clinical trials and new developments that promise hope for lung cancer treatment. If you or someone you know needs inspiration, you can read stories of lung cancer survivors, caregivers and advocates at Lung Cancer Awareness Month. You also can use social media to share stories of survivors, family members or others you know who have been affected by lung cancer using the hash tag #LCAM.
Working to change the perception of lung cancer can lead to greater support and funding for research, which could increase survival rates and help turn lung cancer into a manageable, chronic disease.
If you’d like to get involved in the fight against lung cancer, the American Lung Association sponsors Lung Force Walks and Run/Walks, and has volunteer opportunities. The American Cancer Society also welcomes volunteers and participation in events.
Swedish can help
At the Swedish Cancer Institute, we use the most advanced science to customize lung cancer treatment. We also are conducting 17 clinical trials on lung cancer, and patients may be eligible to participate in one of these studies.
To learn more about our services or clinical trials, call 1-855-922-6237 to talk to someone or make an appointment.