Where is Lung Cancer's Nancy Brinker?
A Facebook discussion today sent me scurrying to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Website to do some research. A friend whose specialty is brain research at a major university countered my claim that lung cancer is underfunded with a table showing that lung cancer gets the second highest amount of funding for cancer.
That isn't quite true. When I looked at the NIH's categorical spending chart that was published on May 18, 2018, it clearly shows that, for 2018, the lung cancer allocation is $380 million, which is beaten by breast cancer's $755 million and pediatric cancer's $486 million. At face value, maybe it seems like lung cancer is getting a pretty fair shot. It certainly received more than the $259 million allocated to prostate cancer research or the $291 million provided for colo-rectal cancer.
The dollar amount is only part of the story
My friend was pretty proud of herself for producing a report that showed lung cancer getting a pretty fair share of federal funds after all. If you look at just the amount of dollars going toward the disease, it seems like a lot of money is dedicated to fighting lung cancer.
But, the dollar amount is only part of the story. The dollars allocated for research must be tempered by the number of people who succumb to the disease if you want to really understand what is happening with funding.
Breast cancer, the cancer that gets the most funding of any cancer, both federally and through local fundraising, killed 51,103 people, mostly women, in 2015, the latest year for which NIH provides statistics. Contrast that with lung cancer. Over 163,000 men and women lost their lives to this horrific disease in 2015. If you divide that number by the total number of cancer mortalities (652,672) during 2015, you will find that lung cancer was responsible for 25% of all cancer deaths.
Did you get that? Of all cancer deaths in the United States during 2015, 25% of them were from lung cancer. That's mind-boggling to me. And, truly, it makes me wonder why we don't have politicians standing up and screaming that we need to do something and we need to do something now. This national epidemic that is killing thousands and thousands of men and women, young and old, rich and poor, smokers and non-smokers every single year.
How stigma factors into funding
Another friend asked me why there is such a disparity in funding when considering how many people lose their lives to lung cancer. It has to be because of the stigma associated with lung cancer.
Politicians and citizens alike love to disparage smokers. And, even our own cancer associations, like the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association, perpetuate the myth through their ads and campaigns that only smokers get lung cancer.
I think the inequalities in funding are because people - including politicians, doctors, and the general population - believe that smoking is the cause of lung cancer. The singular cause of the insidious disease. Everyone agrees it is an awful disease, but maybe not as awful as the smell of cigarette smoke, right?
I think that the general public assuages its collective conscience by believing that smokers know the dangers of smoking. Smokers know that they might end up with lung cancer. And yet, they continue the nasty, filthy habit anyway. So, they just deserve what they get.
This thinking infuriates me! First of all, no one, and I mean no one, deserves any kind of cancer, including lung cancer. Even if, and a big if it is, only smokers got lung cancer, it would still be a travesty that there is not adequate funding for research to find a cure.
But the truth is that thousands and thousands of men and women who have never touched a nasty cigarette are also being diagnosed with lung cancer. And, sadly, these never smokers are being diagnosed at much younger ages than those whose cancer is attributed to their bad habit.
Unite and rally behind lung cancer awareness
I know I'm preaching to the choir here. The question I have is how we get the information out of the choir and into the hands of someone who cares. Someone who can make a difference. Someone who will become a Nancy Brinker (founder of the Susan G. Komen Foundation) for lung cancer.
(If anyone wants to review all of the data used for this article, you can access the spreadsheet I did, using NIH data, here.)
Are you satisfied with your care team?