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Home » EU Health, Health, Lung Cancer

Why is lung cancer so under-reported?

Submitted by on 02 Dec 2016 – 17:18

Lung cancer is one of the most common cancers worldwide and while cancer rates are decreasing, lung cancer still remains the leading cause of cancer-related deaths across the world. Apart from late stage diagnosis, poor survival outcomes and denied or late access to innovative treatment that make lung cancer a particularly devastating and emotional disease for people to deal with, there are still many negative perceptions and stigmas due to the disease’s link to smoking, which strongly impact on funding, resources, on media interest, on public empathy and support and overall add an emotional burden to an already frustrating situation that can affect quality of life. Stefania Vallone, President, Lung Cancer Europe questions why lung cancer is under-reported

Many studies reveal that the diagnosis of lung cancer and its treatment have more than a physical impact; it has social, emotional, psychological, spiritual and practical consequences. The emotional stress of daily coping with this disease and its treatment can create new or worsen psychological distress for patients, their families or other caregivers, but there must be additional factors that explain quality of life variance among lung cancer patients. The potential role of stigma should not be underestimated.

People have a negative attitude about smoking and this attitude transfers to the perception of those who are diagnosed with lung cancer. Although this connection cannot be denied, the stigma still persists, in part, because lung cancer is considered a self-inflicted disease and patients feel stigmatized for it, whether they smoked or not. A lot of people assume that these patients smoked, despite the fact that about 15% of lung cancer patients never have.

In 2010, research carried out by Ipsos MORI on behalf of the GLCC (Global Lung Cancer Coalition), which surveyed over 16,000 people in 16 countries, found some evidence that sympathy levels were influenced by rates of smoking in each country. Between 10% and 29% of people admitted to feeling less sympathetic towards lung cancer sufferers because of its association with smoking.

But lung cancer is not just a smoker’s disease. There are other risk factors to consider and public education plays a key role in leading people to change their negative attitude. The dissemination of adequate and up-to-date information about the disease, the commitment of celebrities in campaigning and advocacy on this issue and the promotion of effective anti-smoking campaigns are crucial and may help to dispel the stigma. Smoking can no longer be considered a bad habit, it is a serious addiction and we need to be motivating and encouraging smokers to quit rather than blaming them.

Unfortunately the stigma surrounding lung cancer affects media interest in the topic. Though there has been an overall increase in news on lung cancer, the media coverage is still low when compared to other cancers,  Lung cancer is certainly not being reported in a manner that it deserves.

Media are more interested in highlighting the strong connection between lung cancer and smoking and the volume of stories discussing new treatments, pilot screening programs or positive lung cancer survivor stories is really poor, contributing to increasing the stigma that patients feel.

People living with lung cancer need and deserve care and support, not an evaluation of the possible causes of their disease and for this reason raising the awareness is one of the main goals of any Lung Cancer Advocate worldwide.