Everyone knows that pink is the official color of breast cancer, pink is deployed on ribbons, bracelets and even NFL uniforms to steer attention to the disease. How come in November everything doesn’t turn white for lung cancer, the number one killing cancer disease?
Lung cancer killed 1.6 million people globally in 2012. This number is more than the next two fatal cancers combined. Regardless, lung cancer lags behind other forms of cancer in research and awareness, largely because more people feel it is self-inflicted. 80% of the people are diagnosed with the disease due to history of smoking.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health allocated $885 million to lung cancer research from 2010 to 2013, this is less than ½ of what was targeted for breast cancer.
Less investment for research means the high fatality rate continues. Few patients live long enough to participate in studies and fewer survivors are available to mobilize and lobby for more funding.
The five-year survival rate for lung cancer is about 18% with only modest improvements in the last 20 years. For patients in stage 4, five year survival is 1%.
Breast cancer in contrast has an 89% five year survival rate.
Lung cancer’s high fatality rate leads to what scientists call therapeutic nihilism: Doctors, convinced they can’t help patients, don’t prescribe treatment and instead recommend they prepare for death.
Advocates may finally be changing all that, as they seek to raise awareness of the disease among women and new treatments improve life expectancy for patients with specific genetic mutations. This category encompasses as many as a third of lung cancer sufferers. On the horizon is a separate class of drugs that stimulate the immune system to fight the cancer.
Such long awaited scientific successes are attracting new researchers and funding. Groups like the American Lung Association are paying greater attention to the disease as well. In addition, previously reluctant corporate sponsors have started to join the fight.