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7 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About The Nation's Deadliest Cancer

Susan Warmerdam
June 23, 2014
Susan Warmerdam
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June 23, 2014

When you hear the words, "the nation's deadliest cancer," which cancer immediately comes to mind? Like most of the population, you probably didn't know that lung cancer is the number one cancer killer of both men and women in the United States! Neither did I ... until I was diagnosed two years ago.

How could I have Stage 4 lung cancer when I was healthy, had never smoked a day in my life, and I felt fine? Why had I never heard of this? Well, read on, because you're about to be blown away by some devastating statistics that have been kept from us for years (sans fluff, sorry):

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1. Lung cancer can happen to anyone.

Man or woman, six-years-old or 90, any race, ethnicity or religion, any height, weight or occupation, a professional athlete, a movie star, a health nut, you ... I think you get the picture. Everyone is at risk. And, considering the fact that one in 13 men and one in 16 women will get lung cancer in their lifetime, it's very likely that someone you care a lot about will receive this diagnosis.

2. Lung cancer kills more people every year than breast, colorectal, pancreatic and prostate cancers combined.

Over 380,000 people are living with lung cancer today or have been diagnosed at some point in their lives (that's the same number of people living in the city of New Orleans!). And, sadly, over 160,000 of them will die this year. I knew three of them so far.

3. You don't have to smoke to get lung cancer.

In fact, let’s just erase that stigma from our minds right now. The stigma that lung cancer is a smoker's disease stops here, with our children’s generation (replace that image of the 80-year-old man with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth with a seemingly healthy 47-year-old woman — someone that looks like, well, me!).

Over 20% of people diagnosed had never smoked a day in their lives and 60% have either never smoked or quit years ago. Exposure to radon, other environmental factors and genetics are all potential causes that are in the game now, and they're not fighting fair.

4. Two times more women than men who never smoked are diagnosed with lung cancer.

And that number is rising, especially in younger women, and with no known cause (I had a gene that just decided to mutate one day… huh?). Did you know that lung cancer has been killing more women than breast cancer since 1987?

In fact, about 33,000 more women die of lung cancer than breast cancer every year. Why haven't we heard about this in the last, um, 27 years?!?!?!? And, where is our mammogram-equivalent for lung cancer?

5. The survival rate of a lung cancer patient is grim.

The average 5-year survival rate is 16% (or just 1-3% when diagnosed at an advanced stage, like mine, when it is most often detected). And, unfortunately, I know firsthand how it ends. It took my father's life (a former smoker) and several family/friends over the years. It's ugly. It's quick. And it's not painless, for the patient or their loved ones.

6. Lung cancer is vastly and unfairly underfunded.

No wonder people are still dying! Even the federal government isn't giving lung cancer research its fair share of funding. For example, more people die of lung cancer than breast cancer, yet it gets only a fraction of the funding. Hello?!?! Why is lung cancer so taboo?

7. You think you're healthy until your doctor tells you: "You have lung cancer."

During a routine physical exam, my doctor told me I was "a picture of health." Well, I must’ve had a different picture in mind because four months later I was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. I later found out that I’d most likely had it for 5-7 years. How could it have gone undetected for so long?

Lung cancer has been called the silent killer because it's rarely detected in its earliest stage when it's most treatable (and if it's caught early, which is only about 15% of the time, it was most likely by mistake while looking for something else).

I realize my wish for everyone to know the severity of lung cancer is grandiose. But, hey, when I wish, I wish BIG! So, now it’s up to you to spread what you know to those you care about and to make good decisions about your own health.

For example, if you have a cough that has lingered on for more than two weeks (or have any of the other lung cancer symptoms), see your doctor and ask for an X-ray or a low-grade CT scan. Really, what do you have to lose? A possible false-positive that they want to keep an eye on that could potentially save your life? Just sayin' ...

Please support lung cancer research to help find the causes and early screening for those who haven't yet been diagnosed and more personalized treatments for those of us living with it today. Click hereto read my story and to make a donation to the TEAM SUSAN Research Award, where 100% of your money goes to lung cancer research.

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Susan Warmerdam author page.
Susan Warmerdam

Susan is a stage IV lung cancer survivor, a passionate advocate and supporter of research, and is fighting hard for a world free of the disease. She is a spokesperson for and recipient of several volunteer awards by the American Lung Association. You can read her inspiring story HERE. Susan lives in Chicago and eats a primarily plant-based diet that she believes played a crucial role in her healing and can only imagine what it could do for someone that doesn’t have cancer!