Alert: We're here for you. Learn how COVID-19 may affect cancer patients.

Survey: 12% of Americans Blame Lung Cancer Patients for Diagnosis

Written by Karen Selby, RN

Smoking is the most common cause of lung cancer, but approximately 20% of people who die from lung cancer in the U.S. never smoked.

Despite this fact, much of the public isn’t aware of risk factors other than smoking. Because of this common and widespread lack of understanding, there is often an unfair stigma associated with anyone who develops lung cancer.

The stigmatization of lung cancer patients is unreasonable for two main reasons:

  1. Tobacco addiction is incredibly difficult to overcome.
  2. Smoking tobacco is not the only cause of lung cancer.

It’s important to understand all the risks factors associated with developing lung cancer — tobacco-related and otherwise. This way, we can not only make informed health decisions for ourselves and our families, but we also can be more understanding of patients going through this aggressive disease.

Read on to learn about:

12% of Americans Blame Lung Cancer Patients for Their Disease

The Mesothelioma Center surveyed 1,000 Americans and found that 12% blame lung cancer patients for developing cancer.

12% of Americans blame lung cancer patients for developing cancer

Perceptions changed as we introduced qualifiers for the cause of the lung cancer cases. The amount of respondents who blamed patients for their lung cancer if they smoked increased to 58%, while the amount for nonsmokers remained relatively low.

Is lung cancer the fault of a patient who has or has not smoked

The stigma associated with smoking and lung cancer causes people to develop assumptions about who or what to blame when it comes to a diagnosis.

A person may not know whether a lung cancer patient has a smoking history, so jumping to conclusions just perpetuates the stigma.

How Addiction Makes Quitting an Enormous Task

Nearly half of respondents believe those who smoked and developed lung cancer should have changed their habits in order to avoid illness.

Should people who smoke and developed lung cancer have changed their habits

The link between smoking and lung cancer has been scientifically established. We now know avoiding tobacco significantly lowers your risk of developing lung cancer.

But once a smoking habit is formed, it’s very difficult to break. While people may know that avoiding tobacco is a healthier lifestyle choice, quitting smoking is an enormous task to achieve.

In fact, research suggests nicotine can be as addictive as alcohol, cocaine and even heroin.

Anyone can become addicted to nicotine, but for those who struggle with depression or mental illness, illegal substance abuse and negative influences from family or peers have a much higher chance of addiction.

Nicotine dependency often begins at an early age, and the user isn’t thinking about long-term health consequences.

A study from the Surgeon General’s Report shows that two out of three high school smokers will continue smoking into adulthood, and one of the two will die of tobacco-related illness. Avoiding tobacco — especially at an early age — is an important choice you can make for optimal lung health.

Lung Cancer Risk Factors Encompass More Than Tobacco Use

While avoiding tobacco does help lower your risk of lung cancer, it doesn’t put you in the clear.

Most people directly associate lung cancer with smoking. However, there are other factors that contribute to lung cancer risk.

Many of these nonsmoking factors, such as genes and circumstantial exposure, are unavoidable. The lack of awareness around these other causes of lung cancer has led to a general stigmatization of lung cancer patients overall.

Percentage of people who die from lung cancer in the U.S. and have never smoked

Each year in the United States:

  • Secondhand smoke causes more than 7,000 lung cancer deaths. Inhalation of secondhand smoke is often accidental or unavoidable, particularly in childhood if a parent or guardian smoked.

  • Air pollution accounts for approximately 10,000 lung cancer deaths. It’s often difficult for people in polluted cities to move because they depend on their location for their job or familial support.

  • Radon gas contributes to 21,000 lung cancer deaths. Radon can’t be seen or smelled, and it is sometimes present in concentrated amounts in older homes that haven’t been properly tested.

  • Asbestos exposure is responsible for an estimated 6,000 lung cancer deaths. Asbestos is often present in homes and job sites without a person being aware of it.

Asbestos and Lung Cancer

Asbestos cancers, including asbestos-related lung cancer and mesothelioma, are caused by the inhalation of asbestos fibers, which damage lung cells.

A person can come into contact with asbestos in a number of ways. People who worked in shipyards, construction sites and factories may be at especially high risk for asbestos exposure. Military personnel are also at risk because of the high use of asbestos-contaminated materials by all branches of the U.S. military.

Lung cancer is a difficult disease, and stigmatizing those affected by it does nothing to help. As a society, we can better learn about the causes of lung cancer, ways to prevent it and the potential risk factors in an effort to stay ahead.

If you suspect that you or a loved one have been exposed to any risk factors, such as cigarette smoking, secondhand smoke, asbestos or any other known carcinogens, visit your primary care physician for a screening right away. The best defense against cancer is catching it early.

Methodology:
This study consisted of four survey questions conducted using Google Surveys. The sample consisted of no less than 1,000 completed responses per question. Post-stratification weighting has been applied to ensure an accurate and reliable representation of the total population. The surveys ran during December 2019 and January 2020.

Share this article

Last Modified March 11, 2020

Registered Nurse and Patient Advocate

Karen Selby joined Asbestos.com in 2009. She is a registered nurse with a background in oncology and thoracic surgery and was the regional director of a tissue bank before becoming a Patient Advocate at The Mesothelioma Center. Karen has assisted surgeons with thoracic surgeries such as lung resections, lung transplants, pneumonectomies, pleurectomies and wedge resections. She is also a member of the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators.

Walter Pacheco, Managing Editor at Asbestos.com
Edited by

7 Cited Article Sources

The sources on all content featured in The Mesothelioma Center at Asbestos.com include medical and scientific studies, peer-reviewed studies and other research documents from reputable organizations.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019, November 18). What Are the Risk Factors for Lung Cancer?
    Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/lung/basic_info/risk_factors.htm
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019, November 18). Quitting Smoking.
    Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/cessation/quitting/index.htm
  3. American Cancer Society. (2019, October 31). Lung Cancer Risks for Non-smokers.
    Retrieved from: https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/why-lung-cancer-strikes-nonsmokers.html
  4. American Lung Association. (2019, August 7). Health Effects of Secondhand Smoke.
    Retrieved from: https://www.lung.org/stop-smoking/smoking-facts/health-effects-of-secondhand-smoke.html
  5. American Cancer Society. (2015, November 13). Why People Start Using Tobacco, and Why It's Hard to Stop.
    Retrieved from: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/tobacco-and-cancer/why-people-start-using-tobacco.html
  6. World Health Organization. (2014, June 30). About the Global Burden of Disease project.
    Retrieved from: https://www.who.int/healthinfo/global_burden_disease/about/en/
  7. International Agency for Research on Cancer. (2013, October 17). IARC: Outdoor air pollution a leading environmental cause of cancer deaths. Retrieved from: https://www.iarc.fr/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/pr221_E.pdf
Chat live with a patient advocate now