Lung Cancer Stigma

  1. Given all the recent media attention to cancer, I have been thinking about my recent and personal experience with this disease. In November 2005 my father was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. Since that time, I cannot tell you how many people have asked me, "Was your father a smoker?"

    In my opinion, this is irrelevant. One would not ask a person with HIV/AIDS, "were you really promiscuous?" or "did you abuse IV drugs?" Why? Because the cause of the disease does not lessen it's horrific impact on the person diagnosed or those who love them. To ask this would be considered extremely insensitive.

    There is such stigma associated with lung cancer, and the fact is, lung cancer is the leading cancer killer of both men and women (taken from the American Lung Association website: All I ask is, when dealing with people effected by this disease, please be sensitive to the impact it has on them and those who hold them close. Just as no one deserves to die of breast or colon cancer, no one deserves to die of lung cancer.
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    About Jayla

    Joined: Dec '04; Posts: 130; Likes: 5


  3. by   Flare
    I tend to think that it is more of a personal rationalization for people to respond that way. Non-smokers hearing that a smoker got long cancer may have that small voice in the back of their head that says "whew, i may be safe then" while smokers may be wondering if they are fated to the same destiny. People genreally want to blame medical maladies on something specific.
    I'm not saying that it's something that should be condoned, i'm just stating human nature.
  4. by   TazziRN
    I think it's just curiosity, not trying to justify the cancer. People are naturally curious and they don't always think before saying something.
  5. by   crissrn27
    Thanks for bringing this up. I really have never thought about it in this way. I will have to be more careful in the future. BTW, I might have asked someone this at some point, but I was just curious, didn't think that they "deserved it" just about everyone in my family smokes and I certainly don't think they deserve to get cancer. No one does.
  6. by   CrunchRN
    I will follow your request. I agree that it is very sad.

    People will blame smokers when they get lung cancer, but if you ate a southern diet and have a heart attack you would not be treated like that. It is unfair, and they are already dealing with a horrible situation.

    I hope this makes some people think Jayla.
  7. by   Jayla
    No, I absolutely do not think it is intentionally said to be hurtful or insensitive. I agree with the above posts.

    From someone who is personally dealing with this disease: just because such a comment is not meant to be hurtful, doesn't mean it isn't. And it doesn't change the fact that there is a great deal of stigma that goes along with a diagnosis of lung cancer.

    Consider the fact that there is so much publicity put into finding a cure for breast cancer. Well, the truth is that more women in this country will unfortunately die of lung cancer. I just feel we need to be more cognizant of the stigma associated with this disease.
  8. by   TazziRN
    I hear you
  9. by   Ophelia78
    I understand your frustrations, though my experiences with this have been with infertility and not lung cancer.

    It seems everyone not only asks "When are you having kids?", but, upon hearing we're having difficulty, say "you need to relax", "you need a vacation", "you need to get drunk", and worst of all "did you try xxx position?" And yes, that last quote came from my Mother-in-Law- after that I really did need to get drunk.

    I hate to say it, but before learning way more about the female reproductive system that I ever wanted to know, I'm sure I said the same dreadful things to other women. Thanks for enlightening us!
  10. by   Thedreamer
    My grandfather died from lung cancer after smoking 40 years. My grandmother has smoked 40 years also and has no problems. Yes its a factor but there are so many other factors. Living in a city with high pollution, incense, living with a smoker... Theres so many ways to get horrible diseases today that its almost trite to ask what YOU did to get it, and is in my opinion a tad cold on that persons behalf.

    I can understand the human need to understand or rationalize the problems but someone, especailly dealing with a horrible diagnosis such as that you experienced, shouldnt be asked questions that so bluntly assume fault with the victim. I wish you the best, and I hope you have the strength to get through this!

    - the dreamer
  11. by   Jayla
    Quote from Thedreamer
    I wish you the best, and I hope you have the strength to get through this!

    - the dreamer
    Thank you!

    Also, for everyone's information:

    [FONT=verdana,arial,sans-serif]Radon is considered to be the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. today. Radon gas can come up through the soil under a home or building and enter through gaps and cracks in the foundation or insulation, as well as through pipes, drains, walls or other openings. Radon causes between 15,000 and 22,000 lung cancer deaths each year in the United States -- 12 percent of all lung cancer deaths are linked to radon.

    [FONT=verdana,arial,sans-serif]Radon problems have been found in every state. The EPA estimates that nearly 1 out of every 15 homes in the U.S. has indoor radon levels at or above the level at which homeowners should take action -- 4 picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L) on a yearly average. Radon can be a problem in schools and workplaces, too.

  12. by   PedsNurse322
    Jayla... you make an excellent point. In fact, I have a friend who's DH was just diagnosed with small cell lung CA - at 40 years of age. Never smoked a day in his life, either. How do I know that? Because I've heard more than a few people ask her that question.

    And I totally agree with you about how breast cancer gets so much attention (deserved, don't get me wrong), yet lung CA in women is virtually ignored. Why is that?
  13. by   Ion
    Quote from 2008rn2b
    jayla... you make an excellent point. in fact, i have a friend who's dh was just diagnosed with small cell lung ca - at 40 years of age. never smoked a day in his life, either. how do i know that? because i've heard more than a few people ask her that question.

    and i totally agree with you about how breast cancer gets so much attention (deserved, don't get me wrong), yet lung ca in women is virtually ignored. why is that?
    for the same reasons that efforts are made to ban firearms when more people accidentally die from food poisoning than accidentally die from guns.

    for the same reason when refuse to seal our borders when the crimes and costs from illegal immigration are known and available.

    rational thought is an uncommon virtue, but emotional response is always on sale.
  14. by   dream'n
    Thanks for the excellent post Jayla. You took the words right out of my mouth. My father died in 1999 of small-cell lung cancer. Sorry to say, but sometimes it is painful to see the attention paid to breast cancer when it is so much more treatable and the prognosis so much better (in most cases) than that of many other types of cancer (including liver, ovarian, and small-cell lung.) Breast cancer almost seems like a 'cause celebre.'