Thursday, July 8, 2010

Study reveals Canadians living with lung cancer are too often stigmatized

1 in 5 Canadians are less sympathetic because of smoking link

TORONTO, July 7, 2010 /Canada NewsWire/ - Canadian lung cancer patients are likely to suffer significant stigma due to the disease's link to smoking, a connection that may impact the care and treatment patients receive. According to a 16-country survey carried out by Ipsos MORI on behalf of The Global Lung Cancer Coalition, one in five Canadians admit feeling less sympathetic towards lung cancer sufferers because of its known association with smoking cigarettes and other tobacco products.

"This research supports what we have known for a long time; that lung cancer continues to carry the very heavy burden of stigma," said Dr. James Gowing, co-chair of the Cancer Advocacy Coalition of Canada (CACC), which is a member of The Global Lung Cancer Coalition. "You simply do not see this type of blame culture with any other disease, or patients and families being abandoned. No one deserves lung cancer, and certainly, no one deserves to die from it."

As the leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide,(ii) the state of lung cancer in Canada remains bleak compared with other major cancers.(iii) In 2009, the prevalence of lung cancer in Canada at 23,400 was similar to that of breast cancer (22,900), whereas lung cancer claimed the lives of 20,500 Canadians compared with 5,400 from breast cancer.(iii) In the study, when asked which two cancers they think kill the most people in their country, an almost equal number of Canadian respondents chose both lung cancer (60 per cent) and breast cancer (58 per cent).(i) One third of respondents (34 per cent) didn't choose lung cancer at all.(i)

"The mortality rate from lung cancer is horrific in this country and we aren't seeing the improvement we should be seeing, given all we know now about this disease today," said Dr. Gowing. "In fact, the 10-year survival rate in Canada is four times higher for breast cancer than lung cancer. Interestingly, the rate of investment into research for lung cancer is four times lower than that for breast cancer."

Through this study, The Global Lung Cancer Coalition concluded that the stigma highlighted in this research has contributed, at a broader level, to the poor resourcing of research and treatments that are necessary to allow people to live longer and better lives, after a lung cancer diagnosis.(ii)

Although smoking causes most lung cancers, as many as 15 per cent of patients are life-long non-smokers, and 35 per cent of patients diagnosed with lung cancer have quit before the time of diagnosis.(iv) Nevertheless, lung cancer patients feel particularly stigmatized because the disease is so strongly associated with smoking, often causing self-blame, guilt and shame, which can contribute to depression or anxiety, affecting quality of life and possibly increased morbidity.(iv)

"Lung cancer can affect smokers, and even people who have successfully quit smoking or who have never smoked," said Dr. Natasha Leighl, President of Lung Cancer Canada. "It is time we recognized the toll this devastating illness is taking on Canadians, so that we can overcome the stigma of lung cancer and work towards better prevention, earlier detection, improved treatments and a cure for all Canadians diagnosed with lung cancer."

The research also found some evidence that sympathy levels were influenced by rates of smoking in each country.(ii) Generally, people in countries with lower rates of smoking had a greater tendency to admit that they felt less sympathetic to people with lung cancer, compared with other types of cancer.(ii) However, the pattern is not perfect, which suggests that other cultural or traditional factors also have an important role to play.(ii)

"The results of this study raise the question of how stigma towards the victims of lung cancer - smokers and non-smokers alike - impacts the support they receive, particularly from the healthcare system," said Heather Borquez, CEO and president of The Canadian Lung Association. "As Canadians, we also need to ask ourselves how we can help the five million smokers in our country to quit and stay quit, so that they might escape the terrible fate of lung cancer."

The research surveyed 16,000 people in 16 different countries, including Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Norway, Spain, Denmark, Switzerland, Slovenia, Sweden, The Netherlands, and the USA. The same questions were asked in each country to allow comparison between countries.(ii) The full report can be downloaded from the Global Lung Cancer Coalition's website at

About the Global Lung Cancer Coalition

Created in 2001, the Global Lung Cancer Coalition (GLCC) is an international group of patient organizations dedicated to supporting the needs of lung cancer patients. The GLCC is also the first truly international patient alliance to promote global understanding of the burden of lung cancer and the rights of patients to effective early detection, better treatment and supportive care. The Canadian member organizations of the GLCC are the Cancer Advocacy Coalition of Canada (, The Canadian Lung Association ( and Lung Cancer Canada (

About the Cancer Advocacy Coalition of Canada

The Cancer Advocacy Coalition of Canada (CACC) is a registered, non-profit cancer group dedicated to citizen advocacy. The CACC operates on unrestricted grants based on guidelines that ensure the organization's autonomy.

About Lung Cancer Canada

Established in 2002, Lung Cancer Canada remains the only organization in the country that is sole dedicated to the support and education of those affected by lung cancer and their families, and to raising awareness about lung cancer nationwide.

Our mission is to increase awareness about lung cancer, support patients living with lung cancer and the individuals who care for them and provide educational resources to lung cancer patients, their family members and health care professionals.

About The Canadian Lung Association

Established in 1900, The Canadian Lung Association is one of Canada's oldest and most respected health charities, and the leading national organization for science-based information, research, education, support programs, and advocacy on lung health issues.

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