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Lung cancer, the invisible disease (think clear)!


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Lung cancer, the invisible disease (think clear)!

Elizabeth T. Robinson

Special to the Gateway

Published: 12:31PM November 26th, 2008

In the United States alone, 160,000 people will die from lung cancer this year. Sixty percent of those do not smoke. About 33 percent of those diagnosed never smoked. Why has this disease reached epidemic proportions? The inconvenient truth is due to our environment.

In recognition of Lung Cancer Awareness Month, representatives from Swedish Cancer Institute, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Virginia Mason Medical Center and Lung Cancer Alliance gathered at Swedish Hospital in Seattle on Nov. 19 to discuss the profound impact of this No. 1 killer cancer.

One startling statistic presented: Lung cancer is diagnosed in men and woman more than any other cancer — including breast and prostate cancer.

The grim five-year survival rate is 15 percent for those diagnosed. Many victims don’t even know they have lung cancer until it is in the advanced stages.

Why? Primarily because there are no approved early screening techniques for lung cancer, such as with breast cancer (mammography), colon cancer (colonoscopy), prostate cancer (PSA count).

You might ask again, “Why is this?”

One answer is that there is a stigma associated with lung cancer. It is commonly believed among some doctors and patients that if you had made wiser decisions not to smoke, you would not have lung cancer.

Let’s say this is true. Where is the compassion? As one forum attendee commented, “If you saw someone lying in the street after being hit by a car, would you say, ‘Were you within the cross walk?’ Of course not.”

Smoking absolutely can cause lung cancer, yet many of its victims are not smokers — and never have been.

Let’s take a moment to consider the all-encompassing definition of a “smoker.” Did your parents or another family member in your home smoke? Did you frequent a bar or restaurant before the “no-smoking” initiative? Did you fly in an airplane, ride on a train, in a taxi or work in an office building before the smoking ban? If so, you, too, could be at risk.

In recent years, the tobacco companies have been heavily marketing to young women in this country. There is a new “purse size” cigarette called Camel No. 9, which is packaged in attractive boxes and includes the slogan “light and luscious.”

Since the U.S. government is beginning to pay attention to the tobacco company’s marketing tactics, the industry is now heavily marketing to foreign countries.

Thank you, USA.

In Washington State, there are an average of 4,019 new cases of lung cancer diagnosed each year — 518 in Pierce County.

But when it comes to research dollars spent per cancer death, lung cancer is the biggest loser. Here is a breakdown in dollars spent per death: Breast cancer — $23,474; Prostate cancer — $14,369; Colon cancer — $5,216; Lung cancer — $1,289.

Of course, it is important to “think pink” in honor of breast cancer survivors and victims, but in addition, please consider “thinking clear” for the invisible cancer and most prevalent cancer.

Lung cancer is best described as “clear” because most victims don’t know they have it until it’s too late, and high-risk patients are not currently being screened for early detection. It is time to “clear the air” and spread the inconvenient truth about lung cancer.

For more information, visit The Lung Cancer Alliance Web site at www.lungcanceralliance.org.

Elizabeth T. Robinson lives in Gig Harbor.

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