As Lung Cancer Awareness Month draws to a close I'm glowing from hearing about all of the events - and how each year there are more and more advocates investing their precious time and energy to spread awareness and provide funding for lung cancer research. But amidst that glow is a sadness. It seems just when I get excited about a new organization or another medical institution promoting awareness, I read the second line. "The key to reducing lung cancer deaths is to launch more anti-smoking campaigns."
Yes, those campaigns are important. But if we want to reduce lung cancer deaths, anti-smoking campaigns just aren't going to do it. Or even come close.
I'm sure many of you are saying, what in the world is she talking about?
A statistic may help.
Nearly 80% of people diagnosed with lung cancer now, in 2012, are non-smokers. All of the anti-smoking campaigns imaginable are not going to make a difference for this 80%.
Maybe a few numbers will make it even clearer. In 2008, the last year from which we have numbers available, there were 158,592 deaths from lung cancer in the United States, including 70,051 deaths in women. (Note that in the same year, there were 40,589 breast cancer deaths in women.) Using the 80% statistic, 126,874 of these deaths could not have been prevented by anti-smoking campaigns.
So why are we focusing on anti-smoking campaigns? Why are we focusing our attention on only 20% of people who develop lung cancer? Don't get me wrong. This group of 20% who are current smokers deserve our love and attention just as much. But what about the other 80%?
Since one of my pet peeves is listening to people rant who don't have a solution in mind, I'll offer a few.
Perhaps we should be focusing more attention on other known causes of lung cancer. Radon is the second leading cause and is totally preventable. Checking for radon in your home doesn't even take willpower. Occupational exposures need more attention as well.
And we need to focus more energy on treatment research. Even if we focus our efforts on the 20% with smoking cessation programs, many of those people will still develop lung cancer due to their history of smoking in the past.
To do this we need funding. To get funding, lung cancer needs to recognized. Even the ribbon - the color pearl - is largely invisible.
What can you do?
For starters, hug someone with lung cancer. Love them without asking them if they smoked.
And consider getting in touch with one of the lung cancer organizations and becoming an advocate. Here are a few links to get you thinking:
- LUNGevity Foundation
- National Lung Cancer Partnership, and it's affiliate Free to Breathe
- Lung Cancer Alliance
- Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation, and it's affiliate The Joan Gaeta Lung Cancer Fund
- Dusty Joy Foundation
- Lung Cancer Research Foundation
- Uniting Against Lung Cancer
- The Beverly Foundation
- Lung Cancer Leaders
- Lung Cancer Caring Ambassadors Program
- Lung Cancer Foundation of America
- International: Global Lung Cancer Coalition
- In the UK: Roy Castle Foundation
If I've missed your organization add it to the comments here, or send me an email so I can add it to the list.
Thanks to everyone who worked so hard to make this year's Lung Cancer Awareness Month more visible. Blessings to all of you.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lung Cancer Statistics. Updated 04/30/12. http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/lung/statistics/index.htm