ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Lung cancer kills more than four times as many Americans as breast cancer. But while pink ribbons trumpet Breast Cancer Awareness Month throughout October, little attention is paid to lung cancer in November, which is that disease's awareness month.
"My wish is the world would stand up and say we've done so well with breast cancer, let's now do the same for lung cancer," says Douglas Arenberg, M.D., associate professor of internal medicine and a lung cancer specialist at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center
"Once people are aware of the facts, they start scratching their heads and thinking we need to do something about this," Arenberg says.
The facts are these:
- Lung cancer is the No. 1 cancer killer in both men and women.
- Five-year survival rates have hovered around 15 percent for the last 20 years, with little improvement.
- Federal funding alone favors breast cancer over lung cancer 10:1.
- $11,000 in breast cancer research is funded for every one person who dies of breast cancer. For lung cancer, it's closer to $1,000 per person.
Arenberg notes the tremendous strides that have been made in breast cancer research, thanks largely to the money generated through awareness campaigns, three-day walks and pink-ribbon products. New drug discoveries have resulted from all the research funding and have helped to improve breast cancer survival dramatically. For cancers caught in their earliest stages, survival rates are around 98 percent.
The picture for lung cancer is far less rosy. Doctors have fewer tools in their arsenal to treat what are often complex tumors. No screening test to detect lung cancer has yet shown statistically that it save lives. Add to that a public perception that most people with lung cancer have brought it on themselves by smoking.
"The perception is ‘It's bad to get lung cancer, but you got what you deserve.' That's a notion that even I had to overcome. There's a certain acceptance that there's something more tragic about a woman getting breast cancer than a woman getting lung cancer. Why are they less deserving of our sympathy?" Arenberg says.