Because of the relation between tobacco use and lung cancer, patients are often seen as responsible for their diagnosis. The negative perceptions associated with lung cancer diagnoses don’t just make battling the disease unnecessarily tougher for these patients; it also establishes serious limitations in working toward a cure.

A common mistake

“The stigma around lung cancer as a self-made or man-made disease has been a huge limitation in almost every aspect,” says Dr. Fred Hirsch, M.D., the CEO of the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC). “It is traumatic for the patients and limits funding,” he says. “The stigma is not justified. Lung cancer occurs in nonsmokers. It occurs in younger people, so the stigma is not appropriate.”

Dr. Hirsch emphasizes that environmental factors are an additional concern for lung cancer diagnoses, and tobacco is simply not the sole culprit. While smoking is still a concern, it’s not the whole story.

Leading a change

Health care personnel play a valuable role in dispelling the stigma against lung cancer patients. They can encourage further fundraising and research by staying educated on the topic and also by being aware of the facts behind the harmful perception.

There are stories from nonsmokers, young men and women, who have been affected by lung cancer. Adds Hirsch, “It is important to educate health care personnel to come away from that stigmatizing.”

“‘The stigma is not justified. Lung cancer occurs in nonsmokers.’”

Supportive events

On November 1, the IASLC organized fellow lung cancer patient advocacy organizations and individuals to work together on a harmonized public awareness campaign for November’s annual Lung Cancer Awareness Month (LCAM). The campaign helps connect the public with personal stories from lung cancer patients, caregivers and advocates.

For years, advocacy groups had been operating independently, until this year, when Dr. Hirsh and the IASLC brought these organizations together to project a louder voice in support of the issue.

“In this effort we are working on common activities, which sends a strong message to the public and to health care personnel,” he explains. “The patients love it. They want to see us all working together. There has been rapid progress in lung cancer early detection and particularly in treatment, and we want to convey that positive message to patients, patients’ families and to the public.”