Skip to Main Content

This year in 2021, America will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the National Cancer Act, which established the National Cancer Institute and started the national “war on cancer.” While we’ve come a long way in raising awareness and increasing screening and survival rates for many types of cancer, lung cancer screening rates remain abysmal, despite available coverage and widespread access.

The average five-year survival rate for lung cancer, though it has increased since the Act was signed, remains one of the lowest, and late-stage diagnosis is a key reason why: approximately 47% of lung cancer cases are not caught until a late stage when the survival rate is 6%. Lung cancer still remains the leading cause of cancer deaths across both men and women in America.

When Covid-19 first hit, we saw one crisis exacerbate another, causing a dramatic drop in the number of screenings across six major cancer types, including lung. As a result, many people, especially those from underserved communities, may be going undiagnosed until their lung cancer reaches a later stage. Yet even before the pandemic, results from a 2010 and 2015 National Health Interview Survey estimated that less than 4% of Americans eligible for lung cancer screening through low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) actually received a screening.

Stigma and Lack of Screening Knowledge Remain Powerful Adversaries

Decades of anti-smoking campaigns have led the public to believe that lung cancer is for smokers and created an enormous stigma surrounding this disease, when in reality there are many other environmental causes, genetic mutations and lifestyle factors unrelated to smoking (such as obesity and drinking alcohol) that can cause lung cancer. This stigma remains a significant barrier to diagnosis and treatment, even though thousands of people with lung cancer have never smoked. Meanwhile, smokers and former smokers may delay talking to their doctor about symptoms due to guilt or shame.

For more insights into current attitudes about lung cancer and screening, AstraZeneca recently conducted the “Cancer Perceptions and Sentiment” survey with over 5,000 Americans in partnership with Harris. Among the findings:

• Nearly 1 in 3 respondents believe a person with lung cancer is more to blame for getting cancer than a person who develops any other form of cancer, and nearly half (48%) say there is a stigma associated with lung cancer.
• Just 21% of all respondents say they are very aware of lung cancer screenings, and even fewer (10%) have a strong understanding of how lung cancer screening works.
• 41% say it is very or somewhat difficult for the people in their community to get cancer screenings

You can also test your own knowledge on the perception and sentiments around lung cancer here:

Changing the Conversation to Improve Survivability

Over the last several decades, advances in lung cancer treatment have significantly improved. But despite these advances, 71% of those surveyed still cited fear of a positive diagnosis as their biggest concern or hesitation when it comes to screening — illustrating the distress and hopelessness that continue to be associated with this disease. Now is the time to change this narrative and reduce the stigma associated with this disease. We can make a difference and take action to help increase survivability and eliminate lung cancer as the leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S.

Of course, we cannot achieve this alone. A seismic shift in public and community discourse on lung cancer requires a strong educational movement that reaches the general public, HCPs, policymakers and payers. Debuting at this year’s all-virtual World Conference on Lung Cancer (WCLC), AstraZeneca is calling for a movement to unite the lung cancer community under a set of common goals like reducing stigma, increasing belief in survivability, encouraging early diagnoses — with the overarching goal of shifting general perceptions of this disease in the next five years. Together, we can change the narrative around lung cancer from a disease with a forgone conclusion to one with hope for better outcomes.

As we begin a new year, we are ready and eager to work across the entire lung cancer community to help make what was once out of reach a real possibility. To learn more, visit the AZ & You Blog and pledge your support for achieving these goals.