Lung cancer smoking stigma persists

Those who suffer from lung cancer continue to be unfairly stigmatized because of the assumed connection between the disease and smoking, David Mason, MD, chief of thoracic surgery and lung transplantation on the medical staff at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, said on WFAA-TV’s (Channel 8) Good Morning Texas.

“There’s a stigma I think that comes along with lung cancer and that that is a disease of only smokers and that it’s self-inflicted,” Dr. Mason said, “but that is not the case and people could have very minimal smoking history, from many years prior, and still get lung cancer.”

Dr. Mason noted that lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2011, 156,953 people in the U.S. died from lung cancer, including 86,736 men and 70,217 women.

“Many more people are getting lung cancer than we ever thought possible who did not have any history of smoking,” Dr. Mason said.

It’s a point that was also captured in a recent NBCNews.com story:

Lung cancer is the top cancer killer of women, and some medical experts say that they are seeing more patients in their 20s and 30s, many of them nonsmokers. But because lung cancer carries the stigma of smoking, experts say it is often overlooked in non-smoking patients — and doesn’t get the kind of funding or support given to breast cancer and other big killers.

That story goes on to say that, “Of the estimated 108,000 new lung cancer diagnoses among women each year in the United States, a shocking 72,000 will die, according to the American Cancer Society.”

More people die of lung cancer than breast, prostate, colon and pancreatic cancers combined, according to the article, and its survival rate is just 16 percent.

Dr. Mason’s interview took place days before Thursday’s Great American Smokeout, a day when smokers across the country are urged to give up the habit. November is also Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Kicking the habit always lowers the risk of lung cancer, no matter how long someone has been smoking, according to Dr. Mason.

For more on typical symptoms, treatments and prognoses, visit our Chest Cancer Research and Treatment Center website.

Dr. David Mason on WFAA-TV

About the author

Scott Goldstein
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Scott is a former Dallas newspaper reporter. His father and two brothers are doctors, so healthcare is his family business.

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Lung cancer smoking stigma persists