BY LAURIE FENTON AMBROSE AND BONNIE J. ADDARIO, OPINION CONTRIBUTORS
National Women’s Health Week is an opportunity to shine a light on a women’s health imperative that will take the lives of more women this year than breast, ovarian, cervical and uterine cancers – combined, yet still exists on the fringes of the public consciousness. It is lung cancer and it is the number one cancer killer of women.
This is old news to our community of survivors and advocates who have long been on the front lines raising their collective voices on Capitol Hill to build greater awareness and compassion for those impacted by this disease.
Thankfully, some members of Congress have heard our call. Earlier this year, Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) joined Representatives Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.), Rick Nolan (D-Minn.), Barbara Comstock (R-VA) and Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) in introducing the Women and Lung Cancer Research and Preventive Services Act in both the Senate (S. 2358) and the House (H.R. 4897).
This move solidified bipartisan, bicameral support among members of Congress who have long shown a commitment to policy initiatives to amplify the focus of lung cancer as a national priority. We are empowered by this support. We encourage other Senators and Representatives to join their colleagues and support this legislation.
Why are we taking this path? The truth is that lung cancer has a disparate impact on women. Nearly 200 women die each day, one every seven minutes. Sadly, lung cancer remains the “hidden” women’s cancer — little known and rarely discussed due to the pervasive and negative stigma that most people associate with smoking and think that those diagnosed “get what they deserve.” Yet, this ignores the fact that never smokers also get lung cancer. In fact, approximately two-thirds of people who never smoked diagnosed with lung cancer are women.
Stigma has also contributed to lung cancer research lagging far behind research into other types of cancer. Lung cancer receives $1,831 per death in research funding from the National Institutes of Health, the least funded of the major cancers affecting women. An estimated 70,500 women will die from it this year.
By comparison, breast and cervical cancers receive $13,406 and $19,904 per death respectively. The five-year survival rate for women with lung cancer remains less than 20 percent while the survival rate over the same time period for women diagnosed with breast cancer is 90 percent.
That is what makes this legislative work such a pivotal opportunity to reset the dialogue and reshape healthcare infrastructure to help people with lung cancer live longer. The legislation calls for a new federal plan of action to increase research to gain a better understanding about why lung cancer behaves differently in women and to inform life-saving gains in early detection and treatment. This will also consider methods to accelerate implementation of screening services as well as public awareness and education about the importance of early detection.
If we understand why lung cancer behaves differently in women, we will unlock answers that will advance transformative breakthroughs to improve quality of life and increase survival not just for women — but for the entire lung cancer community.
For the sake of our mothers, daughters, aunts and grandmothers, let’s work together to shine a brighter, more supportive light on this women’s health imperative — lung cancer — and enact this legislation.
We are counting on you.
Laurie Fenton Ambrose is the president and CEO of Lung Cancer Alliance. Bonnie J. Addario is the founder and chair of the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation