Lung cancer stigma is real.
With an increase in screening and the recognition that nonsmokers can also get lung cancer, it is more important than ever that we talk about lung cancer, support patients and families dealing with lung cancer, and get rid of the stigma that hurts patients and causes delays in care. Patients that may be afraid of or experience stigma are more susceptible to diagnostic and treatment delays, as well as poorer overall outcomes.
Throughout their journey, many lung cancer patients may experience stigma from their family, friends, healthcare providers, coworkers, etc. Stigma develops from the assumption that an illness is the patient’s fault. Because lung cancer is so closely associated with smoking, people assume a patient did this to themselves. No one deserves lung cancer.
Experiencing stigma from others can subject patients to internalized feelings of shame, guilt, loneliness and can even lead to depression and other serious issues. Raising awareness about stigma is the first step to combating it.
Wisely, R. (2018, November 8). 6 Ways Lung Cancer Patients Can Fight Stigma [Web log post]. Retrieved April 23, 2021, from https://healthblog.uofmhealth.org/cancer-care/6-ways-lung-cancer-patients-can-fight-stigma
Coping with Stigma. GO2 Foundation for Lung Cancer. (2019, May 8). https://go2foundation.org/lung-cancer-stigma/coping-with-stigma/.
Tips for Addressing Stigma
1. Empower & Educate
Ask questions, learn the facts about your disease, and inform others. The more information people have, the less likely they are to judge.
2. Connect with other patients and survivors
Surrounding yourself with people who understand exactly what you’re going through can help you feel more connected. Joining a support or educational group can give you that sense of acceptance and community, as well as additional tools to help you cope and understand.
3. Use your resources
Get in touch with a social worker who can help you determine courses of treatment and provide support and guidance
4. Surround yourself with supportive friends and family
Attend your visits with a loved one and spend time with your people
5. Tell your story
Share your experiences with people to help them understand that lung cancer can affect anyone. Many people think of lung cancer patients as just a smoker, but they are more than that. They are our family members, friends, coworkers, etc.
6. Explain how you feel
Tell people that their comment made you feel bad. Remind them that everyone deserves respect and compassion. Simply reminding others can change their actions and attitudes.
7. Seek the right care
If your provider asks if you are a smoker, it may be for a medical reason and not a judgmental one. If your provider makes you feel stigmatized, please let them know how their actions and words make you feel , as they may not be aware. You can also contact your hospital’s patient support office.
8. Embrace a positive attitude and be kind to yourself
Positivity yields better outcomes. No one deserves this disease.
9. Consider complementary therapies
Music and art therapies, guided image therapies and exercise therapies can be extremely beneficial for patients facing a lung cancer diagnosis.