It’s still October, but I want to remind you a few days early that November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. It’s a big deal to me, personally, because lung cancer has affected so many people I have known and loved. Most of my readers know that my husband was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer almost exactly 6 years ago. not long before that, my stepmother died of lung cancer. We’ve had many friends who have been diagnosed with lung cancer. One thankfully is still alive and well.
Next month, I will be posting a series on breathlessness. So I thought I would take this opportunity to share some facts and statistics about the most deadly cancer.
Our Lung Cancer Awareness Story
In October of 2012, my husband discovered hardened enlarged lymph nodes above his left collarbone. He was 51, healthy, and the father of 6 children (3 of whom were still young). He’d never smoked, yet, his doctors soon diagnosed him with stage IV lung cancer. Our world turned upside down.
At the time my husband was diagnosed, he had none of the symptoms you associated with lung cancer, no cough, no trouble breathing. He had terrible back pain that he thought was from a pulled muscle. The pain was actually due to cancer that had already spread to his spinal cord.
When he felt those lumps, he immediately called to get an appointment with the doctor. We would have to wait 3 long days for that appointment. In the meantime, we searched the internet for answers. All of the reputable websites suggested that his symptoms were consistent with metastatic lung cancer.
We kept looking. There was no way it could be lung cancer. Dan had never smoked. He was a realtor and a pastor. He wasn’t working around respiratory hazards. We were wrong. Non-smokers get lung cancer too.
False Assumptions: Real Facts
Most people assume that they don’t need to worry about lung cancer. While most women are aware of their risk of breast cancer, a recent survey that looked at awareness and perceptions about lung health showed that 98% of women don’t even have lung cancer on their health radar. 78% of women don’t know that lung cancer has killed more women than breast cancer each year since 1987. It’s time to raise lung cancer awareness.
Not a Statistic
It is important to keep in mind that a patient is a person, not a statistic. People are unique. Therefore, they will each respond to various treatments in their own unique way. Other factors affect survival, such as age and health at the time of diagnosis. Adherence to a treatment plan as well as the severity of side effects from treatments are factors in survival. Often, whether someone has more or less success than anticipated on a given treatment seems to be as predictable as a roll of the dice. By communicating well with a board-certified oncologist you trust, you have a greater chance of increasing your survival.
Perhaps my favorite story about statistics is my husband’s. When a doctor told him that he had a 4% chance of surviving 5 years, he said, “Someone needs to be in the 4%. It might as well be me.”
Still, statistics do tell a story
In the case of lung cancer, it is a frightening one. It is a story that propels us to take lung cancer awareness seriously.
- About 14% of all new cancers are lung cancers.
- Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women. Each year, more people die of lung cancer than colon cancer, breast cancer, and prostate cancer combined.
- One reason lung cancer so deadly is because it is usually asymptomatic until it has metastasized (spread throughout the body).
- Because of this, half of all lung cancers are already staged IV by the time they are diagnosed.
- Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers accounting for an estimated 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year.
- Another cause of lung cancer is asbestos, Nonsmoking asbestos workers are 5X more likely to develop lung cancer than nonsmokers not exposed to asbestos. If you’re a smoker and you’ve been exposed to asbestos, your risk of developing lung cancer increases 50 fold.
5 Year Survival Rates for Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC)
Not everyone wants to know the statistics of the cancer they or a loved one are facing. If you are one of those people, look no further. If you want greater lung cancer awareness, read on. What follows are the most recent statistics using the current AJCC staging system. The percentage listed is the percentage of patients diagnosed with the given stage of NSCLC who survive 5 years. They are based on thousands of people worldwide, who were diagnosed with NSCLC between 1999 and 2010. These survival rates include people who die from causes other than cancer. Rates are approximations. (American Cancer Society 1)
- Stage IA1 92%
- Stage IA2 83%
- Stage IA3 77%
- Stage IB 68%
- Stage IIA 60%
- Stage IIB 53%
- Stage IIIA 36%
- Stage IIIB 26%
- Stage IIIC 13%
- Stage IVA 10%
- Stage IVB Less than 1%.
It’s important to keep in mind that even with these grim statistics, there are often many treatment options available for people with these stages of cancer.
Take this quiz to see if you should be screened for lung cancer.
Lung Cancer Awareness Reminder:
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In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.
My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com
I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker