National Survey Reveals Widespread Public Misperceptions About Lung Cancer

OncologyONCOLOGY Vol 12 No 9
Volume 12
Issue 9

A new survey of more than 11,000 Americans reveals widespread ignorance about lung cancer, the nation’s leading cancer killer.

A new survey of more than 11,000 Americans reveals widespread ignorance about lung cancer, the nation’s leading cancer killer.

Despite the fact that lung cancer claims the lives of 160,000 people annually--more than breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers combined--survey respondents were unaware of the extent of the threat, and reported limited knowledge of lung cancer prevalence, symptoms, or treatment options.

Majority Unaware of Threat to Women

Among the most significant findings, the survey found widespread ignorance about the effect of lung cancer on women. A substantial majority of Americans (68%) mistakenly stated that breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among women, while 11% cited ovarian cancer as the leading killer. Only 11% of respondents correctly named lung cancer.

"This survey tells us that Americans--especially women--are grossly undereducated about the biggest cancer threat we face," said Diane Blum, executive director of Cancer Care, the nation’s oldest and largest cancer patient support organization, and a cosponsor of the survey.

With 65,000 deaths per year among women, lung cancer kills more women than breast cancer (44,500) and ovarian cancer (14,500) combined. Lung cancer deaths among women have skyrocketed in recent decades, increasing 147% between 1974 and 1994. By comparison, the number of deaths among men increased 20% over the same time period.

The survey also found that nearly half (49%) of all Americans believe that lung cancer is a self-inflicted disease. Nevertheless, the vast majority (94%) also felt that lung cancer patients deserve the same level of treatment as people suffering from breast or prostate cancer.

"Fortunately, the public does not appear to feel that lung cancer patients deserve their fate, and agrees that all people with cancer should be entitled to the same level of treatment, no matter how they get the disease," said Blum.

"Underfunded and underaddressed, lung cancer remains the invisible killer," said Paul Bunn, MD, of the University of Colorado Cancer Center. "If we are to adequately serve this most neglected group of cancer patients, we must step up our commitment to improve detection, increase research funding, and find better treatments."

Other Findings

The survey also found that:

Younger people (18 to 34 years old) were more likely to state that lung cancer is a self-inflicted disease (52 vs 46%), yet still strongly believed that lung cancer patients deserve top-quality care (95%).

The majority (70%) of respondents said that they were only somewhat or not at all knowledgeable about the causes, treatment options, and death rates for lung cancer; ignorance of the disease appeared to decrease with age: 18 to 34 years old (76%), 35 to 49 (72%), 50 and over (63%).

Younger Americans (ages 18 to 34 years) were more likely than older Americans to believe that breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among women (76% vs 68%).

Men were more likely than women to correctly identify lung cancer as the leading cancer killer of women (13% vs 9%).

Lung cancer is expected to strike 180,000 Americans this year, and yet comparatively little funding is dedicated to lung cancer research: Only $800 is spent on research per lung cancer death, compared with $30,000 for HIV/AIDS and $7,500 for breast cancer.

Treatment Progress

Despite the continuing high death rate, important progress has been made in the treatment of lung cancer. The cure rate has nearly doubled over the last 30 years, and the 1-year survival rate has increased by 40% in the last 10 years alone.

The survey was sponsored by Cancer Care, the Alliance for Lung Cancer Advocacy, Support and Education, the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship, and the Cancer Research Foundation of America, which have embarked on a national campaign to increase awareness about the disease. The survey was conducted in April by Yankelovich Partners, and questioned 1,002 adults ³ 18 years old (margin of error, ± 3%).

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