The impact of stigma on people diagnosed with lung cancer

Cancer Australia has produced this film to enhance our understanding, as a community of the stigma that can result from being diagnosed with lung cancer and the impact that this can have on those affected. Our review of the evidence suggests that the stigma and nihilism associated with lung cancer may lead to delays in seeking treatment and this could impact on long term outcomes. The stigma would be the unspoken word, the disbelief that you’ve never smoked, because people would often say to me: “I didn’t know you smoked.” I have smoked from a very young age. I’m not currently smoking. I haven’t smoked in five years. I don’t think it’s fair in a sense that I didn’t deserve lung cancer. The diagnosis of cancer is stressful and confronting for anyone. For many people with lung cancer, this can be compounded by feelings of guilt, shame, distress and isolation. The actual disease does not discriminate, but when people are actually diagnosed with lung cancer they feel that they are discriminated against, because of a lack of awareness in the community. Smoking is the most common cause of lung cancer. However, lung cancer can occur in both smokers and non-smokers, none of whom should suffer the added burden of stigma due to their disease. There is stigma associated across the board – my wife gets it all the time, my family get it all the time. The first thing that, even you know, like the cogs aren’t even moving, it just comes out: “Did you smoke? Do you smoke?” It’s like: “you deserve this”. The feelings of stigma when I was first diagnosed have gradually subsided obviously with people that I know and they know that I am doing so well on the treatment. But I feel if you go into a new environment with different people it then raises its head again, and you have to explain yourself as to how you came to get this disease. It’s very important that we get a message out to the community that we want to decrease the stigma associated with lung cancer. Anyone with a diagnosis of lung cancer, or indeed any other cancer, deserves our support and empathy during the whole of their cancer journey. The evidence suggests that lung cancer patients, more so than those with other cancers, may feel stigmatised by their disease. It’s important to address this stigma, to ensure that all people with cancer access and receive the treatment and support they need.