Lung cancer research lacks funding due to stigma

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Lung cancer kills more people than breast, colon and prostate cancers combined. Yet, this top cancer is a big loser when it comes to fundraising and research. Stigma -- the fact this cancer is so politically incorrect -- may be a big reason why.

Patty Perkins of San Francisco is losing her sister Paula to lung cancer. Paula is only 40 and a mother to two small children.

"She's frightened. [It's] very frightening imaging what is going to happen to you when your cancer is diagnosed late," Patty said.

Like most patients with lung cancer, Paula smoked. That fact may be working against her and the efforts to fight this disease.

Because smoking causes most lung cancers, the disease carries a stigma: it's politically incorrect to have lung cancer. By consequence, there's a guilt associated with it and the belief that patient is responsible for the cancer.

"There is certainly work to be done bringing government funding in line to the severity of lung cancer," said Dr. Pierre Theodore, of the University of California-San Fransisco.

Theodore says that money goes to help all patients, whether they smoked or not. "It's not just a disease of smokers. A quarter to a third of patients who get lung cancer are not at risk," he said.

Patty knows her sister struggled hard to kick the habit. She's asking everyone to kick this attitude. "I don't know if there are any bad diseases. I think we really need to take away the labeling from a lot of diseases. It is definitely not fair," she said.

The five-year survival rate for patients with lung cancer is only 15 percent. Compare that with 64 percent for colon cancer, 89 percent for breast cancer and nearly 99 percent for prostate cancer. We need to do better.


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Dr. Kim Mulvihill


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