Lung Cancer Stigma
WHY DOES IT HAPPEN?
As the dangers of smoking became known, efforts to restrict and ban it often caused a negative reaction to smokers. Since a history of smoking is so closely associated with lung cancer (over 80% of those diagnosed with lung cancer are former or current smokers), the disease has a tendency to be viewed as something a smoker did to themselves.
We now know that many factors increase the risk for lung cancer, including exposure to industrial chemicals, such as asbestos and arsenic, and exposure to environmental agents, such as radon. Changes to certain genes, also known as genetic mutations, also play a role in lung cancer development.
People with lung cancer can experience stigma in different ways.
1. Individual (Self Stigma): Smokers and former smokers may blame themselves for developing lung cancer.
I feel a lot of guilt and shame, believing that I caused my own cancer because I was a smoker.
2. Family & Friends: Loved ones may express blame due to sadness, anger and concern.
I overheard my wife say, ‘these were to be our happy years… I’m so angry at how his smoking has taken away our future!’
3. Society: Lung cancer may be perceived as a “smoker’s disease” by some individuals (in the public, media, government and healthcare profession). As a result, you may receive less compassion and support than you deserve.
When I told my neighbor that I had Lung cancer, he said, ‘What did you expect? You smoked— you got lung cancer!’
Coping with Stigma
You may respond to stigma in different ways. Reactions can include:
- Not telling people you were diagnosed with lung cancer
- An increase in the time you spend alone, away from your social support system
- Increased feelings of guilt, shame, stress, anxiety, anger and depression
- Delaying treatment, not remaining on treatment or not seeking treatment at all
- Stress in relationships with family and friends
- Loss of hope
Here are some helpful ways to cope with these feelings.