by Molah Media

In the UK and around the world, every November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Lung cancer often gets overlooked so it’s probably true to say that most of us hadn’t heard this. Movember – where male health is recognised, we hear of. Breast Cancer Awareness Month last month – many of us did our part, even if it was just about wearing the pink ribbon. Lung Cancer Awareness Month – can you hear the crickets?

 

How big a deal is lung cancer anyway?

It’s a big deal. Lung cancer is the most common cancer in the UK and the world. In the UK, 46 000 people are diagnosed with it every year, and there are 36 000 deaths as a result. In fact more people die of lung cancer than they do from breast, bowel and prostate cancer combined.  So if this disease is so prevalent, why doesn’t it get the same level of advocacy as some of the other cancers do? It’s quite complex state of affairs but here are some possible reasons why.

 

You smoke…therefore…cancer

Most lung cancers are caused by smoking, and to be more specific, tobacco. Up to 85% of cases of lung cancer are as a result of the habit, but this means that at a minimum 15% of patients with lung cancer have never smoked. There are other recognised causes of lung cancer including genetic factors, second-hand smoke and other environmental carcinogens like radon gas. However, because of the strong association with smoking, this is the one that sticks…and one that comes with a lot of stigma.

And that stigma is real. Research back in 2004 indicated that lung cancer patients felt stigmatised because of this association with smoking – even those who had never smoked felt the same. That stigma came from doctors, nurses, friends, family and the patients themselves. In the field of oncology, it’s often said that lung cancer doctors are quite nihilistic, though that may partly be due to the fact that it has always been a difficult cancer to treat. There is often a feeling conveyed – directly or more often indirectly – that if someone smokes, what else should they expect to happen? This is despite the fact that there are quite a few other cancers associated with smoking like bladder cancer, oesophageal, stomach and cervical cancers. And of course, there is the association with heart disease and other diseases of the chest such as emphysema. Yet these illnesses don’t get the same kind of disregard.

Another contributing factor to the radio silence about lung cancer is the group pf people most likely to get lung cancer. It is a disease of the elderly – the average age of a lung cancer patient is 70. It rarely affects young people, though that is changing. Most breast cancers are diagnosed in women (and men) in their 60s, but critically, young women can also get the disease. Most patients with lung cancer are also from the poorer socio-economic groups, who are in turn, more likely to smoke. So, as an older, poorer and less educated group than others, lung cancer patients are less able to advocate for themselves, and certainly not in the way that breast cancer patients can. Much of the success of breast cancer awareness has been driven by patients themselves, with the help of family and friends. It’s not been quite the same for lung cancer.

 

And so, we come back to Lung Cancer Awareness Month

Although there has been some progress in the understanding of how lung cancer develops and in the development of new treatments, there’s still a lot of work to be done to raise awareness that can lead to real change. Campaigns to educate on the symptoms of lung cancer, advocating and fundraising for research and support for patients and families as well as encouraging participation in lung cancer research  – these steps and more need ‘all hands on deck’.

Today, let’s sow a seed and make a pledge to do something to raise lung cancer awareness so that come 2018, we can reap the fruits of our labour. Let’s do it for those who don’t have as big a voice as others!