Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer-related death in Canada, in both men and women. It takes the lives of more Canadians than breast, prostate and colorectal cancers combined.

Lung cancer stigma

While our Canadian health system prides itself on its equality and universality, those concepts only go so far. For most Canadians with lung cancer, it also involves a fight against another enemy — disparity.

Unique among cancers, lung cancer brings with it a heavy disparity of stigma — that people brought the disease on themselves by smoking. A 2010 national poll showed more than 22 percent of Canadians said they feel less sympathy for people with lung cancer than those with other cancers because of its link to smoking.

Natalie Deschamps, whose husband is living with lung cancer says, “I still find that I have to justify my husband’s disease to others. He was healthy, athletic and never smoked. He was still running regularly when he went to the doctor for a spot at the back of his eye. It turned out to be a secondary tumor from his lung cancer. That was three years ago, he was 40; our girls were 5 and 7.”

"A 2010 national poll showed more than 22% of Canadians said they feel less sympathy for people with lung cancer than those with other cancers because of its link to smoking."

The need for care and support

Lung Cancer Canada believes that patients deserve the opportunities, care and public support afforded to other cancer patients. Reducing or even eliminating the stigma associated with lung cancer would be a major step forward in reducing the disparity.

In reality, one in 12 Canadian men and one in 14 Canadian women will be diagnosed with lung cancer. Of those diagnosed, 15 percent are lifelong non-smokers, while 35 percent more are ex-smokers, who in many cases quit years before their diagnosis. For reasons that are unclear, non-smoking women are significantly more likely to be diagnosed with lung cancer than non-smoking men.

The lack of comprehensive screening programs for at-risk populations also poses a barrier to detecting lung cancer earlier, and thus improving the chances of successful treatment.

Finding the cure for lung cancer involves large teams of researchers and importantly enough funding. Progress in lung cancer is also challenged in this area. While lung cancer accounts for 27 percent of Canadian cancer deaths, the disease receives only 7 percent of cancer-specific government research funding and — even worse — less than 1 percent of private cancer donations.

Progress is here

Despite these challenges, exciting new progress is being made as our understanding of the disease increases, and new tests and treatments are developed. We must continue to work to ensure research helps to bring about more choices for patients at all stages of diagnosis and treatment, and that those choices are readily available to all patients who could benefit from them.

Importantly, we need to overcome the disparities present in the stigma, toll, diagnosis, treatment and research of lung cancer to ensure that in the fight against lung cancer in Canada we have all the tools we need to make hope a reality — and to win.