Lung Cancer – Never smokers are also at risk
November 9, 2021

Lung Cancer – Never smokers are also at risk

NOVEMBER IS Lung Cancer Awareness Month, a time to educate the public about the disease, take action for and raise awareness of lung cancer, and share stories of the people living with lung cancer and their families.

On page 2 of today’s issue of SEARCHLIGHT, we share the story of a Caribbean woman, who shortly after her 50th birthday learnt she had lung cancer. That woman, who had never smoked a day in her life, reached out to us to help share her message which she hopes will encourage a conversation in the Caribbean about the disease.

Although significant advances have been made in the treatment of advanced disease using genomic and immunotherapy, lung cancer continues to be the most common type of cancer globally. Accounting for approximately one in five cancer deaths worldwide, lung cancer claims an estimated 1.69 million lives annually. In the United States, lung cancer causes more deaths each year than breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers combined.

In St Vincent and the Grenadines lung cancer ranks fifth in terms of mortality after breast, prostate, cervix and bowel.

The overall 5-year survival rate of lung cancer is 18.1 per cent; however, in most patients, lung cancer is diagnosed in the advanced lung stage, which has a five-year survival rate less than 5 per cent.

In order that more lung cancers are diagnosed early, more public education is needed. Many people feel that only smokers are at risk for lung cancer and very few are aware that lung cancer causes the most cancer deaths worldwide.

In fact, it is this association of lung cancer with smoking that is the basis for the stigma of lung cancer and people’s low level of awareness of their risk for the disease. This stigma exists in spite of data indicating that about 15 per cent of patients with lung cancer have never smoked.

The negative implications of the stigma of lung cancer are far reaching. Patients may avoid or delay seeking treatment and may be reluctant to disclose their illness, even to family members because they feel somehow that they called the disease upon themselves.

Smokers who are diagnosed with lung cancer usually receive less support from loved ones and internationally, there is less funding for research compared with those for other cancer types have all been linked to the stigma of lung cancer.

Surveys have indicated large knowledge gaps among the public in the early symptoms of disease. We have therefore reproduced these on page 2 of this issue of SEARCHLIGHT. Given the high rate of survival of early- stage disease and new therapeutic strategies, there is great potential benefit to lung cancer screening which results in early detection and increased chances of survival.