Monday, December 01, 2003

From yesterday's Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Lung Cancer Awareness Month ends today; were you aware?

I was not, but read on:

Lung cancer kills tens of thousands more people than breast cancer does. But during the past month of "awareness," there have been no pink ribbon pins for lung cancer, no long marches for a cure, no postage stamps or T-shirts or bras or candy at checkout counters. Breast Cancer Awareness Month, in October, had all that and more.
Advocates of lung cancer research know their disease lacks the cachet of breast cancer. Their chosen symbol is a clear plastic ribbon. Invisible. They know that lung cancer patients often are blamed for having the disease; breast cancer patients never are.

The numbers:

The numbers for women in 2003:
Breast cancer diagnoses: 211,000 Breast cancer deaths: 40,000.
Lung cancer diagnoses: 80,000 Lung cancer deaths: 68,000.

Among men, 91,800 new cases of lung cancer will be diagnosed, and 84,400 will die.
It's not just the high numbers that worry advocates and doctors. The death rate -- about 85 percent -- is higher than for any other cancer.

Continuing along, the story goes into some of the reasons for this...

Few survivors: One reason for the shortage of money is the shortage of survivors to advocate for greater funding, lung cancer advocates said.

Sexuality: Breast and prostate cancer push emotional buttons because they are associated with intimacy and sexuality. Breast cancer does not kill as many women as lung cancer does, but it is the most common cancer among women, and it disfigures thousands. Fear of losing a symbol of her sexuality and vitality is a compelling reason for a woman to support breast cancer research, advocates for lung and breast cancer said.

Tobacco companies: Many researchers and advocates have a group of their own to blame for the funding gaps and the cultural indifference.

Let me say that I feel that the funding, research, and public awareness that the advocates for breast cancer have been able to achieve is well deserved. About half of my practice is breast disease, and the resources that are out there are impressive.
This is another example of how the perception of a disease, and the people who suffer from it, can affect the public and governmental response.
A prime example of this is HIV/AIDS. According to the CDC, there were an estimated 26,464 cases of HIV/AIDS in the U.S. in 2002. There are about $2.6 billion spent in the U.S. for HIV/AIDS research. This compares to $565 million this year for breast cancer, and $257 million for lung cancer according to the NCI (all told $4.6 billion for all malignancies). I'm not saying this is right or wrong, it's just how the system works. Should the rules of "evidence-based" medicine be applied to funding? If so, what would this do to HIV/AIDS given the numbers of patients affected? Something to consider.
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