NOTICE: “Me and Lung Cancer” – Debunking the Myths About Lung Cancer


By Dr Kgothatso Motumi, Head of Market Access and Public Policy for Roche Pharmaceuticals South Africa.

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November was Lung Cancer Awareness Month, aimed at raising awareness among critics of the disease.
It is the leading cause of cancer death worldwide, with more than two million people diagnosed each year worldwide.

When diagnosed early, however, a patient is 13 times more likely to live five years or more.

Motumi shared a glimpse of this all-too-common killer.

The price of shame

One of the biggest challenges patients face after early detection of lung cancer is the negative stigma associated with the disease.

Patients often feel ashamed when diagnosed with ‘smoker’s disease’ and are less likely to seek help.

These common feelings can also cause additional stress and health problems.

Lung cancer patients may feel isolated or blame themselves, making it difficult for them to speak openly about their disease.

And even where lifestyle was not a cause of illness, society as a whole has preconceived notions about lung cancer, which can make patients feel judged.

“I felt such shame that maybe I was responsible for diagnosing lung cancer. Dealing with this stigma is such a terrible thing to deal with besides being confronted with a cancer diagnosis, ”said Susan, a cancer patient.

“As the American Lung Association noted, ‘No one deserves cancer. Support and empathy are essential parts of the patient journey and the tools that contribute to their survival. But the myths and misconceptions surrounding lung cancer have been around for many years and will not go away overnight.

“It makes raising awareness, breaking down stigma and giving the disease a human face even more important. Lung cancer doesn’t have to be a death sentence.

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Andy’s story
Andy was diagnosed with anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) positive lung cancer in August 2017, after showing troubling symptoms.

However, thanks to dramatic improvements in the diagnosis of lung cancer, Andy returned to work and continued to live fully.

“I first realized that something was wrong when I started to feel a little off balance. It was like I was drunk.

“I went to my doctor and was diagnosed with a brain tumor, which was caused by lung cancer.

“I was so surprised. I am a healthy person. I eat well, exercise, and have never smoked in my life. It was the first time that I learned of the existence of genetic mutations that cause lung cancer and that the percentage of lung cancer patients who did not smoke was so high.

“I couldn’t do anything but take care of it. I had to focus on my recovery. I had to be proactive and support my treatment plan.

“The first step was to make myself stronger. But there was a tumor that was pressing on my spine, interfering with the signals sent to my feet.

“So the focus was on long-term treatment and improving my prognosis. With the treatment, the tumor shrunk to where I was fit and healthy enough to return to work.

“It was important to realize that life goes on. There are more and more options with new generations of drugs.

“The goal is to make cancer a chronic disease, like diabetes – a disease that can be treated so that people can continue to live full lives with cancer in the background.”

Some of the most common myths about lung cancer:

Myth: Only smokers get lung cancer.

Up to 20% of deaths from lung cancer occur in people who have never smoked or used any other form of tobacco.

Other causes of lung cancer include exposure to radon, second-hand smoke, air pollution, asbestos, or diesel engine exhaust.

Non-smokers can also have genetic mutations that make them more likely to develop lung cancer.

Myth: Lung cancer only occurs in the elderly.
Although lung cancer is most diagnosed in people aged 55 to 84, it can start at a younger age.

Myth: If you have lung cancer at a later age, there is no point in treating it.

Although co-morbidities, which are more likely in older patients, can affect the outcome, age alone should not decide whether the intervention is appropriate.

The prognosis is still significantly better in older patients.

Myth: Lung cancer is a death sentence.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death.

However, there has been an approximately 2.2% drop in the death toll over the past 10 years.

The long-term prognosis is unique to each patient and the statistics do not take into account all the variables.

One cannot always predict exactly how an individual will be affected.

Early diagnosis, early intervention

“Lung Cancer Awareness Month is about encouraging early diagnosis. Many important factors influence patient outcomes.

“Education about the complexity of lung cancer, the variety of people affected, and the damaging effects of lung cancer stigma can help promote better patient care. It is also an opportunity to advocate for global access to care and to provide potentially life-saving support to patients and their families. “

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