Lung cancer gets much less research funding than other cancers, but is deadlier, especially in Kentucky

Lung cancer takes more lives annually than breast, prostate, and colon cancers combined, but the disease “generally doesn’t get the public attention or research dollars in proportion to its lethality,” Arielle Densen, co-founder of Lung Cancer Free World, writes for CNN.

Lung cancer receives $1,442 in federal research funds per death, compared with $26,398 for breast cancer (lung cancer kills nearly twice as many women as breast cancer) and $13,419 for prostate cancer according to a National Institutes of Health study. Funding by private donations increases the gap even further, she writes.

And though lung cancer is usually thought of as a “smokers disease” and often comes with a stigma attached, “the majority of those diagnosed with lung cancer are former smokers or have never smoked at all,” Densen writes.

Densen shares the story of her mother, who was diagnosed with lung cancer but had never smoked. Her mom, being a non-smoker and generally “healthy,” was told she had pneumonia despite a “lingering, months-long cough.” Because she wasn’t a smoker it “didn’t trigger any red flags.” Eventually, a CT scan found a mass in her lung. She was told she had stage 4 lung cancer and had one year to live. But “thanks to advancements in targeted therapies” she lived for 40 months after the diagnosis. She was 59 when she died.

Lung cancer is especially deadly because it usually doesn’t cause symptoms until it’s already spread to other parts of the body. Kentucky has more cases of lung cancer than any other state, and its lung cancer mortality rate is nearly 50 percent higher than the national average.

The five-year survival rate for lung cancer is around 16 percent and has been for decades and the survival rate for a stage 4 cancer is 4 percent, Densen reports.

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