August 17, 2016

Australian attitudes costing lung cancer patients’ lives

9,000 Australians will die from Australia’s biggest cancer killer in 2016 – equivalent to 25 people each day[i]

Australian lung cancer patients have had enough of being stereotyped and deserve the same support as people with other cancers.

A new report released today from Lung Foundation Australia highlights how the nation’s negative attitudes and stereotypes toward lung cancer patients is impacting diagnosis and access to treatment, and is contributing to a disturbing 15% survival rate five years after diagnosis,1 compared to the 90% survival rate for breast cancer[ii]and 94% for prostate cancer.[iii]

Despite being Australia’s biggest cancer killer – responsible for more deaths than breast, prostate and ovarian cancer combined1,2,[iv],[v] – lung cancer gets the least empathy and understanding from Australians,[vi] largely due to its association with smoking.

Lung Foundation Australia CEO Heather Allan is a breast cancer survivor who has seen first-hand the advances and support in breast cancer treatment.

“As a breast cancer patient I received nothing but respect; something that all cancer patients deserve considering the challenges they are facing,” Mrs Allan said.

“However, in my time as CEO of Lung Foundation Australia, I know this to be untrue for lung cancer patients. Unlike other cancers, lung cancer patients face constant questioning around their earlier life choices that may or may not have contributed to the disease.

“Lung cancer doesn’t discriminate and neither should we.”

The negative attitudes and stereotypes experienced by lung cancer patients, largely due to its association with smoking, have been compared to those surrounding HIV/AIDS, mental illness and obesity.[vii],[viii]

“Experiencing depression, delays in seeking help for symptoms, stopping treatment early and receiving limited social support are just some of the impacts felt by lung cancer patients. We need to achieve equity, raising the standard in lung cancer care to give patients the best chance of survival.” Mrs Allan said.

The scale of negative sentiment is even greater in Australia. A global study found that out of 15 nations surveyed, Australians had the least sympathy for people diagnosed with lung cancer because of its association with tobacco smoking.6 These national attitudes translate to low policy support, with less than five cents of every cancer research dollar in Australia going to lung cancer.[ix]

Interestingly, the blanket association of lung cancer with smoking is inaccurate.

Lung Foundation Australia’s Lung Cancer Consultative Group Chair Professor Kwun Fong said in fact, one in three women diagnosed with lung cancer has never smoked and occupational exposure contributes to 29% of lung cancer in men.[x],[xi]

”Smoking was also responsible for other cancers and heart disease but lung cancer patients were unfairly singled out for blame,” Prof Fong said.

“Nowadays, most people diagnosed with lung cancer have quit smoking, often many years before their diagnosis.1 For patients with lung cancer, they not only face their diagnosis but fear attitudes towards their diagnosis, making them feel less worthy of help and support.”

Improving outcomes for patients starts by improving attitudes towards lung cancer. With this report, which coincides with the opening of the Australian Lung Cancer Conference (ALCC) in Melbourne, Lung Foundation Australia looks to highlight the scale of the challenges faced in lung cancer and ultimately improve outcomes for patients in the future.

People can show their support for “Improving outcomes for Australians with Lung Cancer – A Call to Action” at www.lungfoundation.com.au/lung-cancer-call-to-action and make lung cancer a key priority in Australia.

 

About Australian Lung Cancer Conference (ALCC)

The 6th Australian Lung Cancer Conference will be held from Thursday, 18 August to Saturday, 20 August 2016 at Melbourne Convention Centre, Melbourne, Victoria.

The conference, hosted by Lung Foundation Australia, aims to provide a forum to raise and discuss issues in a multidisciplinary team environment, for non-small cell lung cancer, small cell lung cancer and mesothelioma.   Plenary sessions are relevant, interactive and focused on producing an outcome relative to multidisciplinary care.  Pertinent topics ensure the program appeals to many delegates, including Physicians, Surgeons, Oncologists, Pathologists, General Practitioners, Nurses and people holding similar responsibilities involved in the management, treatment and research of lung cancer and mesothelioma throughout Australia.

For more information visit: http://www.alcc.net.au

About the report

The report outlines the following calls to action to improve outcomes for lung cancer patients:

  • Reducing the stigma of lung cancer
  • Making early detection and screening for lung cancer a priority
  • Improving access to best practice care for all patients with lung cancer
  • Increasing research funding for lung cancer

 

References

[i] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2016. Lung cancer in Australia. URL: http://www.aihw.gov.au/cancer/lung/ [last accessed August 2016]

[ii] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2016. Breast cancer in Australia. URL: http://www.aihw.gov.au/cancer/breast/  [last accessed August 2016]

[iii] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, “Prostate Cancer in Australia”, last updated January 2016, http://www.aihw.gov.au/cancer/prostate/

[iv] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2016. Prostate cancer in Australia. URL: http://www.aihw.gov.au/cancer/prostate/ [last accessed August 2016]

[v] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2016. Ovarian cancer in Australia. URL: http://www.aihw.gov.au/cancer/gynaecological/ [last accessed August 2016]

[vi] An Ipsos MORI report for the Global Lung Cancer Coalition. Global perceptions of lung cancer. June 2010. https://www.ipsos-mori.com/Assets/Docs/Polls/sri_global-perceptions-of-lung-cancer_16june2010.pdf [last accessed August 2016]

[vii] American Lung Association, Addressing the stigma of lung cancer (Chicago: American Lung Association, 2014)

[viii] Jared Weiss et al., “Public attitudes about lung cancer: stigma, support, and predictors of support,” Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare (July 2014):293-300

[ix] Cancer Australia 2014. Cancer Research in Australia: an overview of funding to cancer research projects and research programs in Australia 2006 to 2011, Cancer Australia, Surry Hills, NSW.

[x] AIHW & Cancer Australia 2011. Lung cancer in Australia: an overview. Cancer series no. 64. Cat. no. CAN 58. Canberra: AIHW. URL: http://www.aihw.gov.au/publication-detail/?id=10737420419 [Last accessed August 2016]

[xi] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Occupational Cancer In Australia. April 2006. URL: http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/SWA/about/Publications/Documents/411/Occupational_Cancer_Australia_April_2006.pdf [Last accessed August 2016]