Fighting the Lung Cancer Stigma

Despite the research, the promising new drugs, the many ongoing clinical trials, lung cancer remains a disease that affects too many people, too often. For patients and family members, the disease carries an added burden: a stigma that lung cancer and smoking go hand in hand, and that lung cancer patients brought this on themselves. Not only must these patients and family members face their disease, but they also must carry the guilt and blame that some people cast their way.

When we posted a recent infographic on smoking and cancer, we unintentionally helped promote that stigma. We’re deeply sorry and have removed the infographic.

While it’s true that quitting smoking can help reduce your risk for lung and other cancers (and other diseases as well), there are many other risk factors — from air pollution to asbestos to genetic predisposition. The plain fact is that anyone can get lung cancer, just like anyone can get breast cancer (even men) and anyone can get lymphoma or leukemia.

“When I was first diagnosed with lung cancer, everyone would ask me, ‘Why did I get lung cancer?” says Diane Legg, who was diagnosed in 2004. “No one asks someone why they got prostate cancer.”

The implication often for lung cancer patients, is that something they did, such as smoking, caused the cancer.

“People think it’s a self-inflicted disease,” says Dennis Reilly. “It’s not.”  Reilly’s wife, who never smoked, died of lung cancer in 2007.

“People believe that it’s one of the more preventable cancers ,” Reilly points out. “Just don’t smoke. Don’t enter a room with a second-hand smoke. It gives you a false sense of security.”

The truth is: you could do none of those things and still get lung cancer. More people, he says, need to advocate for early detection and funding for lung cancer research.

While progress has been slow at times, stories like Justin Perry’s give hope. Perry, 23, was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer earlier this year. Genetic testing on Perry’s tumor revealed a mutation in his ALK gene, which opened the possibility for a targeted treatment. Listen to his story

Thanks to these research advances, new targeted therapies offer more treatment options for patients. “The identification of genetic alterations – such as EGFR and ALK – make the tumors more likely to respond to certain targeted drugs that can be taken in pill form and have fewer side effects than standard chemotherapy,” says Pasi Janne, MD, PhD, the director of the Lowe Center for Thoracic Oncology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

Dana-Farber physicians offer testing to all lung cancer patients for the presence of such mutations. And researchers continue to hunt for additional genetic targets within lung cancers.

For more information on lung cancer, please visit Dana-Farber’s Thoracic (Lung) Cancer Treatment website or these posts:

Five Things You Need to Know About Lung Cancer

Reasons for Optimism in Lung Cancer Research

Lung Cancer: Stages, Treatments and Targeted Therapies


7 thoughts on “Fighting the Lung Cancer Stigma”

  1. Thank you for listening, removing your previous info graphic and posting this wonderful article. It is information like this that the public needs and the lung cancer community deserves. Thank you!

  2. Thanks for responding quickly and with sensitivity to our critical comments. Unfortunately, lung cancer (both as a personal diagnosis and a focus of medical research) has been negatively impacted by stigma; resulting in an all too frequent lack of compassion and a relative dearth of funding. Hence, those of us ‘in the community’ tend to really jump on what we feel to be an unbalanced representation. I really respect and appreciate the rewrite and everything Dana-Farber does in an effort to make advances against this horrific disease.

  3. Thank you very much….. It is a real shame that the general population think this way…. Until it hits you or your family…you don’t know… I didn’t…..
    I have 1 lung due to this cancer… and now I live with the “New” normal, but I am one of the “Lucky” ones…. too many people Die… and thats the sad part….
    Thank you for being so quick with reply….and just to finish
    Anyone who Breathes..can get lung Cancer….

  4. Thank you for taking that post down. As i said yes it was very upsetting for me & my children to see that. we felt this is what we get for lung cancer awarness month just 3 months after my husband had passed away from it after a long hard fight of 2 years .And two very tough trials he /we went through at Dana Farber.We loved his Dr. he was great so again i will do a shout out for Dr. J.Hilton for finding a trial that gave my husband a few extra months and for always keeping us possitive ! this is what i want to remember about this hospital. We traveled there 3 hrs because of the dr.& the hope of one working for him. Thank you for posting much needed attention on the other ways of getting lung cancer this needs to get out there i’ve found in this battle most people have no idea that if you don’t smoke you can get it. My children will continue to get the word out for all those that are fighting and in loving memory of my husband their dad Jerry Barton 49 is way to young .again we thank you for this The Bartons N.H.

  5. My heartfelt thanks for doing what you guys have done, are doing and will do! I am a thirteen year survivor of stage 3A non small cell lung cancer. I got it when I was 39 years old.
    Everyone is like don’t smoke, quit smoking ect. But what most people don’t realize that now there are more people being diagnosed who had been former smokers who quit years ago and people who never smoked.
    We as survivors just ask that the research funding be equalized amongst the full gambit of cancers not just the most socially appropriate.
    Thank you again Dana-Farber for you do. By using the newest screening test to find lung cancer in it’s earliest stages.

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