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Reducing the stigma of lung cancer on World Cancer Day

1 in 5 Australians believe the patient is to blame for developing lung cancer

Cancer Australia is highlighting the stigma associated with lung cancer on World Cancer Day 2020. This year, under the theme, 'I Am And I Will' individuals around the world are being encouraged to make a personal commitment to change the future of cancer.

World Cancer Day highlights the need for urgent action to increase early stage cancer detection, screening, and diagnosis to significantly improve cancer patients’ chances of survival. Led by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), World Cancer Day aims to provide access to information and knowledge to empower people and reduce cancer risk.

Lung cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer, with more than 2,000,000 people diagnosed worldwide each year, and is the leading cause of cancer death globally. Lung cancer is one of the top five cancers in Australia by diagnosis and the number one cancer killer. More than 9,000 Australians will lose their lives to the disease this year.

A survey conducted by Cancer Australia has shown that around one in five Australians believe that people who get lung cancer mainly have themselves to blame.

 “This World Cancer Day on 4 February gives us an opportunity to support all people who are diagnosed with lung cancer,” said Professor Dorothy Keefe, Cancer Australia CEO.

“It is also an opportunity to place a focus on the impact of stigma associated with the disease and challenges for the thousands of people diagnosed with lung cancer who experience this shaming.

“The diagnosis of cancer can be extremely stressful and confronting as it is. In the case of a lung cancer diagnosis, this can be compounded by feelings of guilt, shame, distress and isolation,” Professor Keefe said.

“Lung cancer patients may feel stigmatized by their disease. As our survey has shown, many people presume that a patient’s illness is due to smoking, and that they could have just chosen not to smoke. This is far from accurate. People smoke for complex reasons.”

While tobacco smoking is the most common cause of lung cancer, it can occur in both smokers and non-smokers.

“Working together to reduce the experience and impact of stigma on lung cancer patients speak directly to the World Cancer Day key messages about the mental and emotional impact of cancer, and the importance of equal treatment and care for all.”

“This stigma could lead to delays in seeking treatment and this could impact long term outcomes. They should not have to suffer the added burden of this shame.”

“People with lung cancer should not be judged, they need support, empathy and understanding of everyone in the community including friends, family colleagues and health professionals, said Professor Keefe.”

Stigma is one of the key issues being considered in the national Lung Cancer Screening enquiry currently underway. Cancer Australia is investigating the feasibility, design, cost-effectiveness and implementation of a national lung cancer screening program and is seeking submissions from all Australians via an online Consultation Hub. The web-based hub is open until February 17, 2020.