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Lung Cancer Health Center

Widespread Misperceptions About Lung Cancer

Most Americans Have Poor Understanding of Survival Rates of Lung Cancer Patients
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 22, 2010 -- Most people in the U.S. underestimate the deadliness of lung cancer, but African-American's misperceptions about the disease may be especially hazardous to their own health, a study shows.

The results show the vast majority of American adults don't know that more than three-fourths of people diagnosed with lung cancer will die within five years after diagnosis.

But researchers found African-Americans are more likely to have misperceptions about other facts about lung cancer that could interfere with prevention and treatment.

"We observed that all races and sexes grossly underestimate the lethality of lung cancer," write researcher Christopher S. Lathan, MD, MS, MPH, of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, and colleagues in the journal Cancer. "Black patients appeared to be more likely to expect more symptoms, to be more reluctant to seek care because of fear of disease, to be confused about preventive recommendations, and to doubt the association of smoking with lifestyle."

Researchers say the facts about lung cancer are grim:

  • Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women in the U.S., responsible for 161,840 deaths in 2008.
  • Only 15% of those diagnosed with lung cancer survive for five years after diagnosis.
  • Up to 80%-90% of people diagnosed with lung cancer are current or former smokers.
  • African-American men have the highest rates of lung cancer and highest rates of death from lung cancer among any group.

Although racial differences in lung cancer have been described by several previous studies, researchers say little is known about perceptions of lung cancer in the general public.

In this study, researchers analyzed information from a random national sample of 1,872 people who participated in the 2005 Health Information National Trends Survey. The respondents answered questions about their beliefs and perceptions about the facts about lung cancer as well as their own ethnic background.

The results showed both whites and African-Americans grossly underestimated the deadliness of lung cancer, with only 16% and 26%, respectively, correctly reporting that less than 25% of people diagnosed with the disease survive more than five years after diagnosis.

But African-Americans were more likely than whites to:

  • Believe there were too many recommendations for preventing lung cancer (53% vs. 37%)
  • Be reluctant to be checked for lung cancer (22% vs. 9%)
  • Expect symptoms prior to a diagnosis of lung cancer (51% vs. 32%)

African-Americans were also less likely to agree that  lung cancer is caused by behavior or lifestyles (73% vs. 85%).

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