People who are diagnosed with cancer face difficult decisions about treatment and care. For the more than 228,000 Americans expected to receive a lung cancer diagnosis this year, there is an additional burden to overcome: coping with the social stigma associated with the disease, which can potentially cause a person to delay or even refuse treatment.
The stigma around lung cancer has been shaped over many decades by a societal association with smoking. In addition, lung cancer has a high mortality rate that has also resulted in hopelessness amongst patients. This can be especially true for people with a specific form of lung cancer called extensive-stage small cell lung cancer (ES-SCLC), which is often linked to smoking and is known for being difficult-to-treat, with little progress in treatment over the past several decades.
Fortunately, recent research shows that stigma and hopelessness surrounding lung cancer may be slowly lifting, in part due to an improvement in our understanding of lung cancer and advances in treatment. For example, cancer immunotherapy, which is designed to work with the body’s immune system to fight cancer cells and may also affect normal cells, has been shown to be an effective option for ES-SCLC.