OpEd -Lung Cancer is the biggest cancer killer in the US

Be aware of, and help stop, the random killer that will claim more than 160,000 lives this year: lung cancer

In a perfect world, lung cancer would not exist. We would not see our parents, our children, our husbands and wives, our friends and neighbors, suffer and die from this disease. We would not need to designate this November, and every November, as National Lung Cancer Awareness month.

But this is not a perfect world. People are diagnosed with lung cancer every day. This year, it is estimated that 226,160 new cases of lung cancer will be diagnosed. That represents almost 14 percent of all cancer diagnoses. Lung cancer causes more deaths in America an estimated 160,340 in 2012 than the next three most common cancers colon, breast and prostate combined!

With that many new cases of lung cancer diagnosed a year, you would think that every month, every day would be dedicated to lung cancer awareness.

But there is a stigma attached to lung cancer. Too many people think that lung cancer victims were asking for it by being cigarette smokers. No one regardless of whether or not they smoke deserves lung cancer.

And the fact remains that tens of thousands of lung cancer diagnoses each year are from causes other than smoking. Radon causes ten percent of lung cancer cases. Occupational exposures to carcinogens account for nine to 15 percent and outdoor air pollution causes one to two percent.

In my role as president and CEO of the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic, I often hear heartbreaking stories of loss from lung cancer.

Just recently, I heard the story of Scott Garet, from Washington, Pennsylvania. Scott was a runner and he was pretty good. He ran his first marathon in May of 2011 and was happy to have finished in less than four hours.

Not long after, he started feeling bad. An MRI in September of that year revealed a tumor in his back. More tumors were discovered and then the diagnosis came back as lung cancer.

Scott had never smoked.

He fought hard, but in the end, the cancer won. Scott was only 26 when he died.

Scotts doctors were never certain why he got the disease. The air is often dangerous to breathe in that part of Pennsylvania. That could have played a role in his lung cancer. A lot of things could have played a role.

One thing that is certain is that too many Americans suffer and die from lung cancer each year.

I said it earlier in this piece, lung cancer causes more deaths in America, an estimated 160,340 in 2012, than the next three most common cancers combined (colon, breast and prostate). Yet funding for lung cancer research has always lagged behind funding for other types of cancer. It is a random, deadly killer. And it needs to be stopped.

So, this November, send a donation to the American Lung Association or visit the local office to learn how you can volunteer to help fight this disease. You can learn more about lung cancer online, at www.lung.org. If you or a friend or loved one has been diagnosed with lung cancer, know that there are treatments and support available. To learn more about treatment options, support for people who have been diagnosed with lung cancer, and support for caregivers, visit www.mylungcancersupport.org.

Deb Brown

President and CEO

American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic