Survey: Public Clueless About Lung Cancer

One of the reasons I became a lung cancer advocate, rather than simply a survivor, is that I recognized the utter lack of awareness about this disease and the urgent need for advocacy. When I was diagnosed, I understood that my own lack of knowledge about this disease was common. I knew I was not unique in my ignorance.

The cancer quiz

One of the activities the Dusty Joy Foundation (LiveLung) does is we have this little cancer quiz. We have given this quiz to thousands of people. We have an online version, and we have print versions that we use at fundraising events, health fairs and things like that. To encourage people to take the time to complete the quiz, we usually offer a small incentive, such as a $50 Visa gift card. The quiz is multiple choice, fill-in the blank. We stipulate that their answers must be correct to qualify for the drawing. But that should be easy because we give them the answers! It’s like taking an open book test. And yet you would be amazed at the number of people who answer incorrectly. It’s not that they are stupid. But when it comes to lung cancer, the public is uninformed. A bigger problem is that they are arrogant in their ignorance. In other words, they think they know so much but they know so little.

A shocking level of public ignorance

I cannot impress upon you the level of this public ignorance about lung cancer. Actually, it’s about breast cancer, too. If people think that breast cancer is the number one cancer killer of women (and they do), then, sadly, they are uninformed about breast and lung cancers. Whenever we conduct these events using the quizzes, we try to stand over the participant’s shoulder to ensure they get the correct answer.

“Uh-oh! I don’t think you want to answer that way!” we say as they rush to select the answer they think is correct. We’re not trying to “trick” them. We’re simply trying to enlighten them about the facts. The look on their faces is priceless when they realize that lung cancer is the number one cancer killer.

Likewise, when they learn about radon or screening, well, it makes what I do all worthwhile.

Organizing a national survey

The Lung Cancer Action Network (LungCAN), of which I am co-chair, recently commissioned a national survey to quantify what we suspected. Working with High Point University’s Survey Research Center, LungCAN commissioned a national online survey of 2,026 adults in the U.S. We asked some of these same questions from the LiveLung quiz.

We expected the results to show that there is a high level of unawareness about lung cancer. However, the level of public ignorance about this disease is simply stunning. Below are a few highlights from the survey, which was conducted between Oct. 11–15, 2018. Full text of survey questions and results may be accessed at High Point University Survey Research Center.

Ninety-four percent of respondents did not know that lung cancer is the number one cancer killer of women. Most respondents, 71 percent, incorrectly believed that breast cancer is the number one cancer killer of women. In fact, as most of us here know only too well, lung cancer kills nearly twice as many women as breast cancer.1

Read more about the Lung Cancer Action Network's national survey and its results in Part II here and Part III here.

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