FairWarining Investigates

Stigma of ‘Smokers’ Disease’ Stifles Fight Against No. 1 Killer, Lung Cancer

About 15 percent of lung cancer cases are in people who never smoked. (Mark Baard/Flickr Creative Commons)

Lung cancer takes more lives than any other cancer. This year it will kill an estimated 160,340 Americans – more than breast, colon and prostate cancers combined.

Yet while lung cancer remains largely a death sentence — just 15.9 percent of those diagnosed are alive five years later — the federal government funds far less research on the disease than on other common cancers. The discrepancy is starkest when death rates are taken into account. In 2011, the two federal agencies providing most of the research money funded breast cancer research at a rate of $21,641 per death while spending $1,489 per lung cancer death.

It has been 41 years since President Richard Nixon signed the National Cancer Act, effectively declaring war on cancer. But there will be no victory without winning the battle against lung cancer, which causes more than one in four U.S. cancer deaths. Advocates say efforts to improve lung cancer patients’ chances have been stalled by unexamined biases among health officials and the public as well as by scant research funds. They also cite the paradoxical invisibility of a disease that claims so many lives but has few champions of the sort who have made breast cancer a cherished cause.

The stigma of smoking is largely to blame. Anti-tobacco campaigns have, in a way, done their job too well, leading many to see lung cancer as self-inflicted. That stigma keeps some families and patients from speaking out, while corporate donors stay away from the disease, and some scientists and policymakers question whether scarce research dollars should be devoted to a smokers’ illness.

The “reservations about this investment are a mirror of our society,” said Dr. Denise Aberle, a professor of radiology at the University of California, Los Angeles. She said the attitude is “You brought it on yourself.”

In fact, an estimated 15 percent of lung cancers are diagnosed in people who never smoked. If lung cancer in never-smokers were considered a separate disease, it would still be the sixth-leading cancer killer in the U.S., ahead of liver, ovarian and esophageal cancers. Researchers estimate that another roughly 50 percent of lung cancer cases involve former smokers who quit the habit years ago.

“Health care providers, scientists, politicians, patients’ family members and the patients themselves all bear some burden of the responsibility for the fact that lung cancer research is grossly underfunded,” Aberle said. “It’s time to get past this.”

Dr. David Carbone, a leading lung cancer researcher at Ohio State University, added, “This is a public health problem that needs to be addressed, regardless of how it came about. We need to take care of those who are sick and need to do everything we can from a public policy perspective to reduce the number of people at risk in the future.”

Recent breakthroughs in cancer genetics and lung cancer screening have added urgency to advocates’ calls for more money for lung cancer research, which will get $231.2 million this year from the two main federal agencies funding such work.

Dr. David Carbone, a lung cancer researcher at Ohio State University, believes more federal funds should be devoted to the disease.

“We are at a precipice where we could really break through,” said Kim Norris, president of the Lung Cancer Foundation of America.

But these advances have come at a time when funding for research is scarce. And many influential scientists, such as the head of the National Cancer Institute, balk at letting pressure from advocates influence research priorities. In their view, it could set the entire cancer research field back by leading to a quota system for research on specific cancers instead of funding the most cutting-edge science that will advance the field overall.

Carbone, however, says unless a portion of federal funds are specifically directed to lung cancer, advances in the field will remain baby steps. “We didn’t send people to the moon because we happened to have a rocket ship sitting around. We sent people to the moon by saying, “‘That’s what we want to do.’ And then we figured out how to do it.”

Making that moon-shot will mean convincing the public and policymakers that lung cancer victims are worthy of support.

Karen "K" Latzka was diagnosed with lung cancer 12 years after she quit smoking.

Part of the challenge is that the disease is so deadly that there is no critical mass of survivors to raise its public profile. Most people are diagnosed at an advanced stage and die within six months, said Jeffrey Borgia, a cancer researcher at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. “There’s not much time to fit a walkathon in,” he said.

In contrast, breast cancer advocates have raised millions through everything from road races to galas.The White House is lit pink each October for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Pink ribbons have graced items including pistols and fried chicken buckets, becoming so ubiquitous that some now question whether the cause has become too commercialized. Lung cancer groups, however, have struggled to attract attention. In fact, the original color for lung cancer ribbons was clear – as in, invisible.

Major League Baseball players use pink bats and gloves in support of breast cancer awareness around Mother’s Day Each year. The National Football League has raised $3 million for breast cancer screening and awareness over the last three years. During the campaign players wear pink cleats and pink-ribboned helmets.

The effort started among players and some teams before growing to its current scale, said Anna Isaacson, a league spokesperson. The league regularly surveys its fans and breast cancer awareness resonates with them. Isaacson said the league is approached often by advocates for many different diseases, though she couldn’t recall being contacted by a lung cancer group. “It’s not ringing a bell,” she said.

Pro football players wear pink to promote breast cancer screening.

“Every single corporation wants to have a pink ribbon on their product, but there’s nobody who has raised their hand for lung cancer,” said Linda Wenger, executive director of the Uniting Against Lung Cancer research foundation.

If lung cancer can get a powerful person or prestigious institution to take on its cause, it could boost both research coffers and the disease’s public profile, said Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy. AIDS, for example, lost its stigma in large part because Hollywood tastemakers took up the cause, she said. Similarly, when Betty Ford came forward about her breast cancer in 1974, it moved the disease out of the shadows.

Perhaps the best example of how strong advocates can spur scientific research is the Defense Department’s medical research program. In 1992, the National Breast Cancer Coalition, led by a breast cancer survivor and lawyer, Fran Visco, persuaded the Defense Department to create a breast cancer research program funded by Congress. The resulting Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program has been allocated $2.8 billion for breast cancer research in the last two decades.

But even though the armed forces skew heavily male and military members smoke at high rates (cigarettes once were included in soldiers’ rations and have been sold at cut-rate prices on military bases), it took 17 years before the program began funding lung cancer research in 2009. Even then it got only a fraction of the funding breast cancer received.

Congress decides how much should go to each disease covered by the Defense Department’s research program. A retired rear admiral who was dying of lung cancer convinced then-U.S. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., a member of the House Appropriations Committee, to push for lung cancer’s inclusion. But Murtha died in 2010, and funding for lung cancer research has been shrinking since – dropping from $20 million at its inception to $10.2 million over just three years. (The Defense Department’s money for medical research is declining overall, but lung cancer funding has fallen particularly swiftly.)

“It’s really challenging now. There just isn’t a champion,” said Regina Vidaver, executive director of the National Lung Cancer Partnership.

Before it can find its champion, lung cancer will have to shed its stigma. This summer, advocates released an ad campaign aimed at shocking the public into examining its biases against people with lung cancer.

Dana Reeve, a singer-actress and nonsmoker, was 44 when she died of lung cancer in 2006. (Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation)

Posters featuring a young man with geeky glasses and a plaid scarf began popping up across the country. “Hipsters deserve to die,” they read. “Cat lovers deserve to die,” read another.

The point was provocation, said Kay Cofrancesco, a spokeswoman for the Lung Cancer Alliance, which sponsored the ads. When a person hears that an acquaintance has lung cancer, she said, a question immediately springs to mind: Did he or she smoke?

The answer often is “no.” Lung cancer among non-smokers is rising, with women accounting for two thirds of these diagnoses. One famous example is Dana Reeve, the singer-actress and widow of Christopher Reeve, who was best known for his role as Superman. A non-smoker, Reeve was just beginning to emerge from the grief of losing her husband when she was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer at age 44.

“People think, ‘Oh, gosh, how unusual,” said Dr. Deborah Morosini, Reeve’s sister, a pathologist. “Really it’s not, because cancer in that demographic has increased and we don’t understand why.”

Many lung cancer victims who are former smokers blame themselves. Karen “K” Latzka, a vice president of a consulting company who lives in Hawaii, started smoking when she was 16. Between classes, she’d head to her school’s smoking area and light up a Virginia Slim, whose ads featured the type of elegant businesswoman Latzka wanted to become.

She smoked for 20 years before finally quitting. But in February 2010, a dozen years after she quit, Latzka developed a nagging cough and got the dreaded diagnosis: lung cancer.

“The automatic response, even from myself, was that I deserved it. You feel almost as if you are taking resources away from people who maybe deserve it more,” said Latzka, who eventually overcame those feelings of guilt.

Lung cancer victims who smoked are blamed for their illness in a way that people with diseases like heart disease and cervical cancer are not, even though these illnesses are linked to poor diets and unprotected sex, respectively – behaviors that are avoidable and known to be harmful.

Yet blaming smokers who fell prey to cigarette marketing seems inconsistent – after all, society condemns tobacco companies for deceiving customers and even maximizing the addictiveness of cigarettes. “[We should] vilify the tobacco industry instead of vilifying patients,” said Dr. Carolyn Dresler, medical director of the Arkansas Department of Public Health’s Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Program.

Lung cancer can be caused by factors such as exposure to radon, asbestos and other toxins. About 10 percent of lung cancer deaths are caused by heredity, said Ann Schwartz, a researcher at Wayne State University in Detroit. Yet lung cancer’s image as only a smoker’s disease can undercut support for research that looks at causes other than tobacco use. Understanding other factors behind lung cancer could make all the difference for nonsmokers like Barbara Densen, a children’s librarian from Summit, N.J., who has battled lung cancer for three years. Her husband, Rob Densen, shared a comment she has often made: “Smoking didn’t cause my lung cancer, but it’s probably going to kill me.”

Ads appeared nationwide as part of a Lung Cancer Alliance campaign to spur people to reconsider their biases against people with the disease.

In an effort to decouple the image of smoking and lung cancer, some advocacy groups don’t even ask the patients they support if they smoked unless it is medically relevant.

But Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, said he is concerned by the reticence of some lung cancer advocates to talk about tobacco. “If I was czar of the world, I could save so many lives from lung cancer over the next 50 years if I just got rid of cigarettes today,” he said.

Many lung cancer advocates and experts have called for a reassessment of the way research money is distributed at the country’s largest funder of cancer research, the National Cancer Institute.

Research grants from the NCI are the most important financing a cancer researcher can get. But the NCI’s funding, allocated by Congress, has remained nearly flat since 2003, aside from a one-time infusion of $1.26 billion as part of the stimulus package of 2009. Still, today the NCI funds only about 14 percent of applications for its most common research grant, called an RO1 grant. That’s less than half the percentage it funded a decade ago.

Congress does not dictate how much NCI can spend on each type of cancer. Instead, NCI funds the cutting-edge science most likely to advance the field overall.

Lung cancer receives less funding than other cancers under this approach, too. In fiscal year 2012, the NCI will devote $221 million in research grants to lung cancer and $712 million to breast cancer, according to National Institutes of Health estimates.

NCI officials caution against reading too much into these numbers. Most of the research the institute funds is basic research that applies to multiple types of cancer. The institute also funds tobacco control and financed the National Lung Screening Trial, a large, multi-year trial that recently established that low-dose CT screening of smokers reduces lung cancer mortality. It was one of the institute’s most expensive projects to date, a spokesperson said.

But some researchers, like Carbone, say the problem with the NCI’s prerogative of funding the most advanced cancer research, regardless of what organ it involves, is that research on some types of cancer  is further along than others.  Breast cancer, for example, has been better funded for longer and had earlier breakthroughs that attracted more top researchers and more money, from the federal government and other sources. “The infrastructure in the one disease is better than the other. It’s a self-perpetuating problem,” Carbone said.

Dr. Deborah Morosini

Cancer research is increasingly focused at the molecular level instead of focusing on individual cancers of the breast, colon or other organs. Researchers now know that cancers at different sites in the body can be caused by some of the same genetic mutations. But a single mutation can behave differently in different organs, so it is still necessary to look at particular cancers such as lung cancer, Carbone said.

The other side of the argument is represented by Dr. Harold Varmus, the head of the NCI. He declined to be interviewed by FairWarning, but in a speech at the National Press Club in September, he said he would “object dramatically” to efforts such as legislation that would force the NCI to set aside specific pots of money for specific cancers. This approach, advocated by some groups over the years, would “take the decision-making about grant making out of the hands of the NCI and [put] it in the hands of advocacy groups,” he said.

Given the sheer number of lung cancer diagnoses, drugmakers have a vested interest in developing new treatments and screening tools. Indeed, there are currently more lung cancer drugs in development than drugs for breast, prostate and colorectal cancers, according to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, an industry group.

But pharmaceutical investment can’t supplant federal funding; in fact, drug makers build on the sorts of basic research the NCI funds to develop new treatments. Public money supports more than four-fifths of all basic research used to discover new drugs and vaccines, according to one estimate.

Borgia, the Rush Medical Center lung cancer researcher, has watched nervously as the shortage of research funding has driven his peers from the lung cancer field. He was hired with four other researchers who have all lost their jobs for lack of funding. Borgia hasn’t gotten an NCI grant yet, but he’s been kept afloat by a grant from a lung cancer foundation. Still, he’ll be gone, too, if he doesn’t get a big federal grant or a contract with a drug company, “My neck is in the noose next,” he said.

Borgia is working on blood tests that could be used to make lung cancer screening more safe, effective and cheap. He said that, while a cure is far off, today’s researchers have made advances in diagnosis, early detection and treatments that could save tens of thousands of lives. “That’s here right now, you just have to invest in it.”

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About the author

Bridget Huber is a FairWarning contributor.

20 comments to “Stigma of ‘Smokers’ Disease’ Stifles Fight Against No. 1 Killer, Lung Cancer”

  1. Bob Evans

    My father died of lung cancer as well. And yes, he was a smoker. Never smoked at all until he joined the military and they gave him cigarettes. Also heart disease is brought on by yourself too. And diabetes and AIDS. So if we’re playing the blame game then maybe we shouldn’t treat any of those either. You eat too much and don’t exercise. You deserve to die. You use drugs and have unprotected sex. You deserve to die. We could go on and on about how everything is your own fault. How about car wrecks? You didn’t drive defensively enough. You speed all the time. You deserve to die. Why don’t we just try and find a cure for all diseases instead of blaming it on the victims?

  2. Cancerkiller

    Nobody will die from lung cancer any more – Nature has provided us the unlimited power of being as healthy as Gods, we just gotta activate it.

    Lung cancer and any other cancers on Earth can be erased from the face of the planet, once everybody (kids and adults) start doing my discovery – the PCK – The Personal Cancer Killer – the complete prevention and cure for kids and adults of any diseases – from the common cold to cancer – just an exercise for a minute a day for prevention and for 2 – 3 minutes a day for the cure.

    I do the Cancer Killer for a minute a day and I am the healthiest person on the planet – I cannot catch cold, flu, HIV/AIDS, malaria, etc., or any forms of cancer – that is simply impossible. Even bioterrorism is much too weak against everybody doing the Cancer Killer – any bioterrorist bugs are killed immediately in case they contact us.

    The price of the Cancer Killer for the whole world is $90 Billion. I accept checks of $5 Million to disclose it personally.

  3. Nita Jones

    Thank you for this enlightening article and the comments as well. Hopefully it will encourage the powers that be to fund research for lung cancer.

  4. Leta Bezdecheck

    90% of lung cancer is caused by smoking. We all think of smoking and that is especially hard on the 10% who acquire it that didn’t smoke. Lung cancer would lose it’s place as the most common, deadly cancer if nobody smoked cigarettes. DON’T SMOKE.

  5. K

    My Dad was just dignosed with Large cell lung cancer want to know what,he is not a smoker.It makes me so mad trying to redsearch it and dang near everything says QUIT SMOKING STOP grouping cancers together,not all people who get lung cancer smoke.He also was not around passive smoke.
    Since we found out TODAY we are lost as to where it came from,I do know he was around my Mom who had radation treetments I wonder did it come from there?.. My Mom had a neurofibromatosis tumor TURN to cancer MOVE to lung. She passed away from that.She was NOT a smoker either but when we went to plan her funeral the guy at funeral home asked if she was a smoker.NO SHE WAS NOT….Come on American cancer researchers..Do more deeper studies so people who get lung cancer and who are not smokers are not treated like the cancer is there own fault..That makes me so angry…

  6. Teresa O'Rourke

    Thank you so much for this well-written article. My Father passed away from lung cancer 17 years ago, and I didn’t talk about it for 15 years because I was tired of people asking if he was a smoker. My father’s cancer was caused by asbestos that he was exposed to while working in a steel mill. I recently found groups specifically for lung cancer, and finally found people who felt as I do. No one understands how lung cancer is treated differently than any other cancers until you have lost someone to it or experience it for yourself. No one would ask someone who lost their mother to cervical cancer “Did she have a lot of sexual partners?” Studies are showing a link between smoking and breast cancer, yet no one would ever ask a woman with breast cancer, “Oh, do you smoke?” Nor should they.
    Thank you for spreading awareness.

  7. New England Lung Cancer Project

    Excellent article! Thank you!

  8. half price sky code oct 2010

    Hello! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading this post reminds me of my previous room mate! He always kept chatting about this. I will forward this article to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read. Many thanks for sharing!

  9. Melinda Cloud

    Great article — thank you!!! Truly enjoyable as well as informative comments too!

    Oh my, my, my how those who think they are in the “know” actually know so very little. Have you ever noticed (of course you have if you have any propensity towards thinking) that a disease must be socially “fashionable”, i.e. non-ugly in order to get a great deal of attention, either that or have a powerhouse group behind it — take breast cancer for instance — all women have breasts therefore there is a strong voice for finding a cure. Not all women will get breast cancer but most all women (including me) fear breast cancer. And a high percentage of men also like breasts. Then we have prostate cancer, herewith noted to have the best survival rate (breast cancer a close running second) and, what do prostates involve? Male genitalia and in a (still) male-dominated world, well, there is no “duh?” to figuring out the funding for that one. Cultural acceptability has a great deal to do with where cancer research monies go. It’s sad, really sad that we are still running on the hamster wheel of appearances and niceties when people are dying left and right of other (worthy of note) cancers.

    And oh how we love to blame in this society — it’s as though we’ve gone way beyond no-fault auto insurance to rationalize ourselves. Actually it may very well be the blame game that beget no-fault auto insurance. We seem to savor, to support, particularly the big-biz corporate not-MY-fault attitude, the it’s not my fault that it’s your fault excuse- manufacturing of reality.

    I’ve two dear people who died from lung cancer. Neither EVER smoked. Oh but you can bet that was the first question asked after diagnosis! It was as though the inquisitors could not handle that smoking was not the cause. Well, if that’s so, who are we going to blame and shame? Don’t all lung cancer people deserve lung cancer? And as long as we can blame them, even if they didn’t smoke, (they probably thought about it, right?) then the industrious producers of air borne carcinogens can continue on their merry way, polluting the air via coal, chemicals, etc. (and as Mr. Lombado states, above: the “small particle air pollutants”) and we can stop pretending we aren’t 2-legged sheep and simply accept that for the most part most of us are.

    On another note, yet still connected — ever wonder how many carcinogens are sprayed on the tobacco leaves as well as added chemicals during the process of making tobacco products?

    More to ponder: Breast cancer — do the research and discover women in Asian countries, for instance, have a very low comparative incidence of breast cancer YET when they travel to and decide to live in the American (cancer) society, to take on the American common lifestyle, and eat the GMO’d, chemically additive beyond all rational sense fare, pesticide laden, the super processed American diet, their incidence of breast cancer suddenly, assuredly rises. Hmmm, why is that?

    I’m a 2 years chemo-free survivor, in-remission from non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. Ohh, it was aggressive! Oh dear, what did I do to get that?!? Was it breathing in the pesticides sprayed about so commonly during my childhood to kill off those nasty mosquitoes? Was it the creek I played in where the water upstream flowed from the old “piggery”, i.e. the slaughterhouse/processing livestock facility? Was it the fumes I breathed in while pumping gas as I struggled to make ends meet as a single parent? Maybe it was the glazes I worked with on my ceramic pots. Maybe it was the chemical (silicone derivatives) poisoning? Ohhhh that’s shaking scary business trying to come up with the reasons to blame myself here. I can’t even say “Well, if I’d had breast cancer they would fix it and they would know why. Or if I was a guy, hey, they’d tell me about this prostate business.” But, would they? No, because no one is telling, not in the mainstream anyway, that our entire lifestyles, our granting permission to big chemical and modifying food/agri businesses, running on more greed than is even bearable to think about and their hands-in-the-pocket governmental cohorts are the one’s killing us and we, us, the “it’s okay they know what’s best for us” two-legged sheepsters are committing (in)voluntary suicide in a great variety of ways by agreeing to it!!!

    Cause and effect. Not effect then cause. Or, go ahead and create a cause because you’re fed up with an effect that was caused to effect you. Until we start valuing life, real life without the preponderance of having man-made dominance fed by greed, until we prefer quality over quantity, until we collectively and predominantly override lust (for any number of things or feelings) to exponentially live for the true gusto of life, until we appreciate the gift we were given by the Creator, by God, well, when it all comes down to it, you’re still going to die (these days most likely from unnatural human causes} and others are still going to cry when you’re gone. Myself? I’d prefer to die from natural causes, like the body simply wearing out from a great life yet as most cancer warriors know, after you hear “remission” you hold on to that truth, you keep it at bay as long as you possibly can through a combination of conscious nutrition, prayer, attitude, and hope and you kiss Life and Love good morning when you open your eyes, absolutely grateful you opened your eyes.

    In the meantime, lets all, all of us, even those lucky enough not to have cancer or be touched by it (yet), work towards discovery of causes, ALL causes (including lung cancer) and to eradicate them (even if the Causers get mad) and let’s do our very best to compassionately support those who’ve been whacked with the disease — hold their hands as they battle for what we all want: Life and to know we’re deservedly loved while living it — like God does for us, naturally.

    Thank you for allowing me share and for taking the time to read, maybe even ponder. May the Blessings Be.

  10. Jenny Lawson

    I am very angry at people that say Lung cancer doesn’t deserve funding like breast cancer does due to the fact that it is self inflicted. No person on this earth deserves to die from any type of cancer!! Yes it is a fact that smoking can increase your risk of lung cancer. So then why all the funding on Aids then?? All the attention Aids gets?? It is definately time to dig down & realize that we have to kick lung cancer’s butt!! My Uncle Dick has just been diagnosed with lung cancer & it devastated me when I received the call from my Mom. He is so loving & caring. Every time I see him I see a smile & hear a laugh. He is such an outgoing, free spirated individual. There is no doubt in my mind that he will fight this disease with every bit he has!! I want to help get this disease the attention it so desperately deserves so people like Dr. David Carbone can find a cure for this disease or improve the survival rate. I live in Cincinnati & I plan on reaching out to people I know for help with this terrible disease that no one deserves to die from!! I hope & pray every night that my Uncle will beat the numbers. God Bless everyone that is affected by this horrible disease!!

  11. Frank Lipsky

    This issue is simple!
    Assume you have one pot (of taxpayer money) which you can donate to studies and cures of lung cancer and breast cancer.
    The facts that you use must use to divide the money in the pot are:
    Lung cancer in the main is self afflicted-and caused by addictive nicotine;breast cancer is not sef inflicted and the scientific progress has been miserable.
    What is so morally difficult?

  12. Betsy Thompson

    Such a comprehensive article, yet we all tap dance around the Elephant in the Living room.We all know where this stigma stems from.
    I represent a small but determined group of Lung Cancer Survivors and Caregivers. We have no political agendas and are not concerned with strategic positioning for our advancement We fight for equal recognition and acknowledgement of those living with this disease.
    When the worlds richest, largest,most powerful cancer organization can do no more than represent LCAM with ONE event-The Great American Smoke Out, need we look further into “Stigma”? C’mon everyone,say the words…American Cancer Society.

  13. Suzann Smith

    I would like to thank you for such an informative article on lung cancer. I am not sure if I feel better after reading this or I could just scream. I lost my brother on September 20, 2012 from lung cancer. He was diagnosed in late July. Yes, he was a smoker but quite years ago. When he started to smoke it was fashionable, cool and exceptable. To say to a cancer patient that it is there fault is rediculous. My rage comes from the fact that
    research for cancer is not treated the same. Because we have pretty pink bows running around this country does not make breast cancer any more serious than lung cancer. I think that the heads of these grants for distributing research money for lung cancer should have to spend a month with patients and their families that are suffering from lung cancer, . Maybe they would understand that this funding is needed. I say lets get our act together and start realizing that lung cancer is the desease that needs research money. I also think that we should start wearing Purple bows for lung cancer maybe than we will get recognized.
    Keep up the good work Fairwarning.Org

  14. Lynn Gauvain

    Thank you for this article. I have been fighting Lung Cancer only since Feb. of this year, but it is the hardest thing I have ever faced. Yes I was a smoker, but it’s not like I said “hey, lung cancer is #1 on my wish list.” I still feel the quilt over having to tell my family.
    I was so surprised when I learned the real life facts about lung cancer (under)funding, (under)reseaching and (un)awareness.
    I am spreading the word everyday this month about the problems with the funding and research and stigma.

  15. Rita Russell

    Thank you so much for this extremely well-written, comprehensive article about the far-reaching negative effects of lung cancer’s stigmatization as a smokers’ disease. My mother was blindsided by lung cancer 11 years ago when she was diagnosed with an adenocarcinoma, stage 3b. Because she was a lifelong nonsmoker, her primary care physician all but assured her that her sudden onset of fatigue and shortness of breath was NOT cancer related. He was just as stunned as we were when the her biopsy came back positive for lung cancer.

    The world needs to know that if you have lungs, you can get lung cancer… whether you’re a smoker, former smoker, or never smoker. And no matter which group you fall into, if you are diagnosed with lung cancer, you deserve just as much compassion and support from family, friends, and the public as anyone else who is battling a life-threatening illness.

  16. Roz

    Thank you for your very well-written, educational, and thoughtful article. As an eight year survivor of lung cancer who is very involved with advocacy I believe that lack of public awareness about the true facts surrounding lung cancer contributes to the path of death and destruction this disease causes.
    The perpetuation of the smoking stigma lulls non-smokers into a false sense of security that they are immune to lung cancer. The rise amongst non-smoking young women is most alarming. The number one risk factor for lung cancer is having lungs.

  17. Stephanie Perez

    Thanks for this article. Lung cancer needs all the exposure it can get. As a 2 year survivor I am counting on our medical commnity to keep me alive. I’ve been so lucky so far and I know it. If my current course of treatment stops working I am hopeful that there is something else out there for me. People need to know that anyone can get lung cancer. It’s scary sometimes to put myself out there and talk about it because I’m never sure of how people will react, but I feel I have to. People need to know! Thanks for helping to inform.

  18. terri ferguson

    i’m a 4 year lung cancer warrior,while awerness is the key to finding the cure !!!!there are more deadly cancers than breast now like pancratic,my husband is 53 dignoised after 1&half years of guessing!purple ribbon lung is white lets fight!!!!!

  19. Bonnie Addario

    We have two foundations here in San Francisco. The Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation and the Addario Lung Cancer Medical Institute (ALCMI). lungcancerfoundation.org and alcmi.net….

    We started the foundation in 2006 and have had statistics on buses, in the New York Subways and billboards around the country. We currently have a PSA with Maroon 5 being viewed multiple times a day.

    I am a lung cancer survivor of 8 years. In a very small club.

    The very last words a patient needs to hear when they are diagnosed with any cancer is that they brought it on themselves and should be ashamed. I have heard those words and know how it feels.

    My grandparents were immigrants to this country and we were taught that America never turns their back on anyone. We need to revive that belief and get on with this and take care of all of our patients regardless of what disease they have.

    Thank you for your article. The more media we all receive the better.

    With much gratitude,

    Bonnie Addario

    Everything said here is true and probably even more difficult than expressed.

  20. Louis V. Lombardo

    Bravo! This is an important article. I worked in air pollution control in the 1960s when it was treated as a public health problem not as it is now as an environmental program. When Nixon created the EPA from reorganized PHS programs for air pollution control and other pollution programs he appointed William Ruckelshaus to head the EPA. Ruckelshaus made the symbol of EPA a flower See it at EPA.gov. The joke at EPA was that now we were to protect birds and bunnies rather than people. Ruckelshaus was later rewarded by becoming head of Weyerhauser.

    Three comments:

    First, examine the research on small particle air pollutants — euphemistically referred to as “fines”. The smaller the particle the higher the surface area to volume ratio. Small particles are therefore chemically more reactive per unit of mass that larger particles of the same substance. And lungs have evolved better defense mechanisms against large particles than small particles.

    Second, opposition to air pollution control comes from oil, coal, power, chemical and other industrial interests. Controlling less visible pollution of “fines” is more expensive than controlling more visible smoke pollutants. So wide industrial opposition to lung cancer research has broader and more powerful support in Congress than opposition by Tobacco interests.

    Third, cancer prevention advocates should fight bureaucratic opposition to set asides of research monies for specific cancers such as lung cancer. Start with small percentages such as 1%, 10%, etc. Insist on accountability and commensurate allocation of funds and problems.

    Keep up the good work Fair Warning!

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