Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Lung Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Widespread Misperceptions About Lung Cancer

Most Americans Have Poor Understanding of Survival Rates of Lung Cancer Patients
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%).

Today on WebMD

Broken cigarette
Do you know the myths from the facts?
man with a doctor
Our health check will steer you in the right direction.
sauteed cherry tomatoes
Fight cancer one plate at a time.
Lung cancer xray
See it in pictures, plus read the facts.
15 Cancer Symptoms Men Ignore
Lung Cancer Risks Myths and Facts
cancer fighting foods
Improving Lung Cancer Survival Targeted Therapy
Lung Cancer Surprising Differences Between Sexes
Pets Improve Your Health
Vitamin D
Lung Cancer Surgery Options