In a study recently published in the journal PLOS One, lung cancer was reported to be stigmatized by patients, caregivers, healthcare professionals and the general public.
The study, “Attitudes and Stereotypes in Lung Cancer versus Breast Cancer,” was conducted by researchers at University of Texas Southwestern, University of Virginia, and Genentech.
Societal perceptions may play a role in the high rates of non-treatment in patients with lung cancer. Emerging evidence suggests that negative perceptions of lung cancer, such as blame and hopelessness, may play a role in these non-treatment rates.
The association between lung cancer and smoking, the idea that the disease is self-inflicted, and its high rates of mortality may trigger these negative perceptions. Lung cancer carries the cumulative burdens of social stigma and of being a leading cause of death among cancers; this also carries over to never-smoking lung cancer patients.
With the aim of determining whether bias exists toward lung cancer, Dr. N. Sriram and colleagues from the Psychology Department at the University of Virginia conducted a study using the Implicit Association Test, a measure within social psychology designed to detect the strength of a person’s automatic association between mental representations of objects, or concepts, in memory.
Participants taking part in the study were initially recruited from an online survey panel based on U.S. census data. Explicit attitudes regarding lung and breast cancers were derived from participants’ ratings concerning what they thought patients experienced in terms of shame, guilt and hope using descriptive statements (an assertion made as statement of fact), and from participants’ opinions regarding whether patients ought to experience such feelings, using a normative statement (or value judgment, such as desirable or undesirable).
The results showed that study participants were more prone to agree with normative statements and negative descriptive comments concerning lung cancer compared with breast cancer, having stronger negative associations with lung cancer.
Patients, caregivers, healthcare providers, and the public had similar negative implicit attitude levels regarding lung cancer.
“Future studies are needed to investigate the emergence of attitudes and stereotypes pertaining to lung cancer and their potential effect on care and treatment decisions. Additionally, a reduction in bias may result from increased awareness of lung cancer, such as its incidence in former- and never-smokers, and of newly available treatment options,” concluded the research team in their article. “A combination of these factors has the potential to enhance support for lung cancer patients and ultimately increase the number of patients who receive treatment.”