As an actor, I know how to transform myself into a character onscreen that is vastly different from the person I am off-screen. Earlier this year, in partnership with Bristol-Myers Squibb, I took on a new leading role as part of a campaign to help increase public awareness around lung cancer -- the leading cause of cancer death worldwide and the second most common cancer among both men and women in the United States.
Becoming a health advocate fulfills a family legacy that started with my grandfather, John Huston. Thirty years ago, he used his celebrity to make people more aware of this devastating disease, one that eventually claimed my friend and mentor, Peter Blythe. In my latest role, I am encouraging people to take action to learn more about lung cancer, to recognize its risk factors, and to make changes to live a healthier life.
But in this role as an advocate, I am playing myself, and not a character. Having been a smoker for 15 years, I realize that now is the time for me to stop acting and to take action -- to follow my own message and do my best to avoid becoming another lung cancer statistic.
I know firsthand how lung cancer affects people's lives. And I know that my years of smoking have already increased my risk for the disease. This is why I'm trying to quit. Quitting has been a struggle for me, but I hope to set a better example for the people I am trying to motivate and encourage.
Because smoking is one of the more recognized risk factors for lung cancer, there is a stigma that a lung cancer diagnosis somehow equals punishment. We need to change this common misconception as you don't have to be a smoker to get lung cancer. In fact, nearly 80 percent of all new lung cancer cases will be among people who have never smoked or formerly smoked.
Other factors such as a family history of cancer and environmental factors like exposure to air pollution and asbestos can also put you at risk. In some cases, there is no obvious cause. Ultimately, it is important to remind ourselves that it shouldn't matter how someone got cancer. All people living with cancer deserve the same hope, empathy and care.
I am proud to continue my grandfather's legacy as a public health advocate, and be part of a movement that is making a positive difference for the lung cancer community. We're also fortunate to live in a monumental time for cancer research.
As one of your New Year's resolutions, I invite you to join me by taking responsibility and acting now to make a change. I urge you to learn more about lung cancer for yourself and help spread the word. Take advantage of the wealth of resources available through local advocacy organizations and support groups in your area, or find information online.
To empower those who have been impacted by lung cancer, I urge you to reach out to five of your friends and loved ones either on social media or in-person, and educate them about the disease. Remind them of the risks associated with lung cancer and help fight the stigma. Remind them that, together, we can make a real difference.
Let's act together.