November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month: “Shine a Light” and Save Lives

by Sokolove Law

Lung cancer is by far the leading cancer killer. Among both men and women, it accounts for 27 percent of all cancer deaths: that’s more deaths than from colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined.

This is a real threat across the globe, but still largely misunderstood. A shocking lack of knowledge about lung cancer’s risks and treatment persists among patients and physicians alike due to underfunding of research. Recognizing an urgent need for lung health awareness, a coalition of advocacy organizations – including the Lung Cancer Alliance (LCA) and the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC) – made November Lung Cancer Awareness Month. We can all unite against lung cancer equipped with the facts about the disease and its prevention. Here’s what you should know about this cause.

Calling for Greater Awareness of Lung Cancer

Established in 1995 as Lung Cancer Awareness Day, LCAM steadily grew. The campaign is primarily designed to promote stories of lung cancer survivors, caregivers, and their families as a need for more funding. As a result, the campaign aims improve outcomes for patients and debunk stigma associated with the disease through public awareness and stronger research.

“We need the public and the media to understand that new research, diagnosis, and treatment breakthroughs in the last 10 years have brought new hope to patients and their families,” said the IASLC in a statement. “IASLC encourages members to engage with local media and advocacy groups to bring more attention to the magnitude of this devastating disease.”

In turn, the campaign tends to bring into focus diseases with similar symptoms to lung cancer – some just as life-threatening – and diseases mistaken for lung cancer. To achieve widespread awareness, the public needs to understand the differences between these diseases.

For example, mesothelioma, a rare cancer caused exclusively by asbestos, is often confused with lung cancer. Mesothelioma develops in the pleural lining of the lungs (or less commonly, in the lining of the stomach, heart, or testicles). Lung cancer can start anywhere in the lungs. That doesn’t make mesothelioma any less deadly, however. While lung cancer is treatable, mesothelioma has no cure.

Lung Cancer and Mesothelioma: What’s the Difference?

When inhaled, asbestos fibers can build up in different parts of the body with differing results, leading to several types of diseases. Both lung cancer and mesothelioma, in addition to diseases like asbestosis, can develop as a result of asbestos exposure. Each disease shares a few characteristics in symptoms, diagnostic procedures, and treatment techniques.

Otherwise, the 2 are quite distinct. While mesothelioma’s only cause is asbestos exposure, most lung cancer cases are attributed to tobacco use and other toxins in the environment. The 2 cancers also grow differently: lung cancer as individual masses and mesothelioma as a sheath-like coating around the organ. Lung cancer has a shorter latency period (the period between exposure to a carcinogen and diagnosis) of 10 to 30 years, but the latency period for mesothelioma can stretch to upwards of 50 years. By the time it’s finally detected, mesothelioma is too advanced to remove; more than half of lung patients die within a year of diagnosis, but few mesothelioma patients are expected to survive this period.

Moreover, though incidence rates of lung cancer are decreasing, incidences of mesothelioma are not. Mesothelioma cases spiked between 1999 and 2015 in the U.S., given that asbestos use was at its highest in the mid-1900s, but usage didn’t decline until the 1970s. Around 3,200 new mesothelioma cases continue to arise in the U.S. today according to the latest CDC data.

What Can You Do to Help?

Your first stop is social media. On LCAM’s dedicated Twitter and Facebook pages, organizers and the public can share and discuss patients’ stories. Use the hashtag #LCAM to join the conversation. You can also use posters, graphics, and profile picture frames (downloadable from the IASLC’s and LCA’s websites) and wear teal to reinforce awareness of the movement.

To participate in a grassroots effort, look for a “Shine a Light” event in your area – health providers are organizing these events in 200 locations across the U.S. You could even host your own fundraiser at your local office, school, or community center. If you don’t have time to host an event, making a donation toward research funding – perhaps in honor of a loved one – is the quickest way to show your support.

Learn more about lung cancer from fact sheets by the IASLC or Lung Cancer Alliance, and more about mesothelioma here.