World No Tobacco Day And Stigma in the Lung Cancer Community

May 31, 2017

May 31, 2017 is WHO, World No Tobacco Day, and the theme is “tobacco is a threat to development.” While tobacco smoking is a known risk factor for a variety of cancers, at the Cancer Support Community, we recognize that 15-20% of lung cancer patients have never smoked.

No one deserves cancer. Just because an action is a risk factor, doesn’t mean someone is more or less deserving of this disease.

Stigma is the concept this blog post is tackling, particularly stigma in the lung cancer community. So first, why does this occur? Stigma takes place when a group has negative beliefs about something, someone, or a specific situation. In this instance, people tend to have negative views about smokers.

The theme of World No Tobacco Day aligns with cancer care. WHO doesn’t set out to stigmatize those who smoke, but instead places blame on the larger Tobacco Industry. CSC will provide top-tier psychosocial care to anyone who needs it.

Most Americans believe that lung cancer is uniquely caused by smoking, and in turn they place blame on the person with lung cancer. In general, people are not as sympathetic to lung cancer patients as they are to people with other types of cancer. For more information, check out CSC’s research fact sheet about the psychosocial impact of lung cancer-related stigma. We compiled these findings with research from the Cancer Experience Registry, an online community of cancer patients and caregivers. If you or a loved one has cancer, please go online and join the registry. People who do so are influencing real changes in research, policy, and care in the cancer community.

According to our research, patients with lung cancer report experiencing stigma because the disease is associated with smoking. This stigmatization causes increased distress in lung cancer patients. There is a lot of shame, blame, and guilt in this group of people. This influences some patients to hold off on seeking medical attention. They want to keep their diagnosis a secret for fear of being judged. Some people are even worried that their insurance won’t cover a “self-inflicted” illness. There are resources to help you, regardless of your diagnosis.

Lung cancer patients who have never smoked constantly feel like they need to explain themselves to others. These people are still shamed and blamed because most people assume that all lung cancer patients must have smoked to cause the illness. On page 4 of CSC’s Frankly Speaking About Lung Cancer educational materials, we refer to this as the “I told you so” gaze.

Instead of addressing the shame of outsiders (regardless of your smoking status), remain focused on moving forward and taking care of yourself.

On page 5 of the Frankly Speaking About Lung Cancer booklet, you can find tips to combat the blame, shame, and stigma that is unfairly projected onto people with lung cancer.

Some of these tips include:

-If you smoked, forgive yourself. You cannot change the past.

-If someone asks whether you smoke, ask them, “Why do you ask?” Often people are just trying to distance themselves from their own risk of the disease and don’t realize how insensitive they sound.

-If you hear negative remarks about smoking and lung cancer, use the opportunity to educate the speaker. Show them this blog post! Or use some facts from the Frankly Speaking About Cancer series.

-Find support from other people with lung cancer. This could help you learn new ways to cope with the stigma and feelings of guilt. One way to do this would be to join the Cancer Experience Registry, which was mentioned earlier. Here you can share your experiences and learn from others going through something similar to you.

If you scroll to the bottom of this website, you will find a webinar on Coping With Stigma, Blame and Shame. We also have a Frankly Speaking Radio Show called Facing a Lung Cancer Diagnosis. Utilize the resources available to you, and remember that stigma is unacceptable. Do everything you can to fight this stigma! And CSC will help you with every aspect of your cancer journey.