More than 200,000 people in the U.S. get lung cancer each year, and despite what many people may think, those cases are not limited to smokers.
Lung cancer survivor Kathy Weber can attest to that. Weber is active, healthy and felt fine until one day in 2014, when she noticed something felt wrong in her shoulder and arm while she was doing push-ups.
"I will tell you it was difficult in the beginning because even my provider I think thought I was crazy when I was asking for chest x-ray," said Weber. "I didn't fit any category to require a chest x-ray, I wasn't coughing, I had no symptoms, so it didn't make sense to spend money on that, and I get that."
Weber shared her story Monday night at an event hosted by the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC), a global organization dedicated solely to the study of lung cancer, that is headquartered in Denver.
The event included doctors, community members, survivors and their families and caregivers, and was aimed at raising awareness of the scientific progress in regards to lung cancer, as well as dispel stigma surrounding it and raise funds for a fellowship that will study early detection.
Weber is a nurse herself and a member of the IASLC Foundation board of directors. She says one of the most important things in the fight against lung cancer is changing the stigma surrounding it.
"As a health care provider I had a real difficult time with it because there's a stigma around smoking and somehow those patients or survivors have done it to themselves. It's really heartbreaking for me as a nurse and as a human that we're not approaching our fellow patients with compassion, and love, and respect. We shouldn't be asking the question are you smoker? or not a smoker?," she said.
November is lung cancer awareness month, so lung cancer is the focus of this month's Buddy Check9 program.
About 25 percent of lung cancer patients are diagnosed in stage one or stage two. The other 75 percent are caught in stage three or stage four.
"We have to change those statistics, so we have to work to have 75 percent of our lung cancer patients caught in stage one or two and having a few slip through the cracks in stage three and four, and we're just not there right now," added Weber.
The IASLC points to hopeful progress in the fight against lung cancer, including various new drug approvals, immunotherapy and personalized medicine.
Weber says medical researchers are currently working on new blood markers to help with the early detection of lung cancer, which makes up around 14 percent of all new cancers. Most have no symptoms until the cancer spreads.
For more information on the risks and symptoms of lung cancer you can also visit our Buddy Check9 page.
There you will also find links to more resources and screening guidelines.