Lung cancer is killing more people in NSW than any other cancer, but are stereotypes also hurting people living with the disease?
A new report from Lung Foundation Australia highlights how negative attitudes and misconceptions about lung cancer could be increasing its impact across Australia.
Citing sources including research from the University of Queensland and the University of Virginia, the report says people commonly link lung cancer to smoking, viewing it negatively compared to other cancers.
Furthermore, a study commissioned by the Global Lung Cancer Coalition and published in 2010 shows people in Australia the least likely of the 16 countries surveyed to be sympathetic to people with lung cancer.
Lung Foundation Australia CEO Heather Allan says these perceptions have both a broad and personal toll on people across the country.
“Unlike other cancers, lung cancer patients face constant questioning around their earlier life choices that may or may not have contributed to the disease,” she says.
“Experiencing depression, delays in seeking help for symptoms, stopping treatment early and receiving limited social support are just some of the impacts felt by lung cancer patients.”
Beyond the injustice of stigmatising people with a disease, data show people can get lung cancer without ever smoking.
The Lung Foundation Australia report says one in three women with lung cancer have never smoked, and exposure through work contributes to 29 per cent of lung cancer cases in men.
As for smoking, a recent Cancer Institute NSW campaign shows its impact goes far beyond lung cancer – it can increase your risk of up to 16 different types of cancers.
“We must all work together to ensure that no Australian with lung cancer is disadvantaged by stigma and every person with suspected or diagnosed lung cancer is able to access effective care, which is best delivered by a multidisciplinary team of specialist clinicians,” says Heather Allan.
“No one deserves lung cancer, and everyone deserves treatment.”
Sue McCullogh says her lung cancer was a lucky find.
“I didn’t really get any symptoms, I’d had the flu but I had lost about 10kg in a reasonably short period of time without trying,” Sue explains.
“I kind of knew my body wasn’t quite right.”
Having lived with lung cancer, she knows how important it is to treat everyone with the disease equally.
“I’ve never smoked; that’s what was such a shock. I have discovered the image of people with lung cancer is so diverse.”
“It doesn’t matter what caused your lung cancer, everyone deserves to get the best treatment and there are fantastic treatments out there no matter what.”
Lung cancer in NSW
The latest cancer incidence and mortality data from the Cancer Institute NSW shows there were 3,792 new lung cancer cases diagnosed in 2012. This is projected to increase to 4,670 cases by 2021.
Lung cancer’s biggest influence comes when you look at the number of people it’s killing in NSW.
Over 2,800 people died from lung cancer in 2012, making up over 20 per cent of all cancer deaths in the state.
By 2021 this could increased to 3,210 people.
The significance of these numbers is evident, with the NSW Cancer Plan recognising lung cancer as one of three focus cancers for the state.
There are goals set across the prevention, detection and treatment of lung cancer, with key actions designed to reduce its impact on people across the state.
Resources are also available for people to help recognise the signs and symptoms consistent with lung cancer, which can be difficult to detect.
A recent study, developed in part by the Cancer Institute NSW, shows people in Australia could do more to reduce the impact of lung cancer by acting on the signs and symptoms.