Lung Cancer Stigma: Is It Self-Induced?

by vvr2013 on October 18, 2013 - 3:25pm

There is nothing beautiful about cancer. It is horrid, disgusting and sadly a killer in more cases than less. So when I hear someone say "it's your fault" when talking about lung cancer I tell them to get a better education. Did you know that 10% of people diagnosed with lung cancer are non-smokers and have never been in drastic contact with second-hand smoke? Out of those 10% was my late aunt who recently passed away. She was a beautiful, kind and caring woman who put everyone's well being before her own. Imagine how she felt when she was diagnosed with a cancer that was supposed to be "for those who smoke"? The disease was never seen in her family line beforehand and she had never smoked a day in her life. 


Her biggest concern with fighting this battle was the fact that most people were judging her. Imagine the shame she felt when a conversation like this would fall through:

"That's awful! What cancer do you have?"

"Lung cancer"

"Oh so you were a smoker?"

"No I wasn't actually.."


She once told me that this "no" was always the most discouraged and shamefilled. She could always sense the judgement others would feel and the fact that they would think she was lying. She was basically accused of causing her own suffering and death. Compare that to breast cancer: would anyone in a million years tell someone fighting breast cancer that it's "their fault"? No. Never. Another fun fact: according to the Lung Cancer Association of Canada, lung cancer is the number one killer out of all cancers for both men and woman. I bet you didn't know that. It is quoted that lung cancer kills more than breast, colon and prostate cancer combined. Let that sink in for a bit. 


This summer, Joan Schiller conducted a study on the perceptions between breast and lung cancer and the stigma related to lung cancer. The study consisted of 1700 people answering questions such as "people with lung cancer should be ashamed" or "people with breast cancer should be ashamed". About 70% (1190) of the people said that people with lung cancer should be ashamed. 


Medscape article:


Another point she brought up was that, the reason why there are so many campaigns for breast cancer is because there are more breast cancer survivors whereas there are very few lung cancer survivors. The diagnosis of non-smoker young women is on the rise and there are little answers as to why this is happening. These women don't have many others to give them advice or answers and are judged for their disease. 


My aunt was a huge advocate for lung cancer since she had the disease for a 6-year period which is much longer than usual. Her wish was for more people to be aware of everything I just brought to your attention. 


People dealing with lung already have enough on their plate, so before passing judgement, do some research.