How Banner Health Aims to Break Down Lung Cancer Stigma

Photo Courtesy of Banner Health


Did you know 95% of individuals with lung cancer experience stigma in one form or another? Sadly, it often results in late diagnosis, depression, and a lower quality of life. The pulmonary care team at Banner Health aims to break down the stigmas related to lung cancer to ensure patients get an earlier diagnosis and earlier treatment – resulting in more successful outcomes.

According to a study published in the National Library of Medicine, lung cancer kills more people in the United States than breast, prostate, and colon cancer combined — making it the deadliest cancer by far.

While lung cancer can be aggressive, part of the problem lies in late diagnosis, often due to the perceived and internalized stigmas experienced by those affected.

“There are patient-based issues, fears, and bias against lung cancer,” John David Cowden, MD MPH, an expert in pulmonary medicine at Banner Health, said. “Patients often feel paralyzing guilt over their decisions in life that may have placed them at increased risk. It’s quite difficult when individuals turn their backs on themselves. We endeavor to help these individuals early in the course of their disease in order to make a larger impact.”

One way Dr. Cowden and his team are helping is by encouraging regular screenings in primary care, even if a patient is not showing any signs or symptoms of lung disease but may be between the ages 50 and 80 and have a 20-pack-year smoking history and currently smoke or have quit in the last 15 years.

“We’re trying to help establish lung cancer screening as a routine part of a primary care physician’s general review like colonoscopies or mammograms,” Dr. Cowden said. “Everyone needs to help educate and spread the word.”

Routine lung cancer screenings would raise the rates of early diagnosis. According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer is more likely to be treated successfully when diagnosed early and before it has spread. Anyone concerned with their respiratory health, especially current or former smokers, should ask their primary care doctor about scheduling a lung cancer screening.

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