On Nov. 1, almost exactly three years to the day she was diagnosed with lung cancer, Rebecca Cavagnari crossed the finish line of the New York City Marathon. Young, athletic and never having smoked a day in her life, Rebecca was shocked when doctors discovered that the cause of her chest pains was stage III lung cancer. Even more surprising to her was that she was not alone -- nearly two-thirds of new lung cancer cases are former or never smokers, and these patients are often young, fit women.
Rebecca has been fortunate enough to beat the odds, and this weekend she completed her 13th marathon -- this time with just a single lung.
Rebecca ran in celebration of her renewed health, and as a way to raise awareness about the nature of lung cancer today. The disease grows more deadly every day, however it remains obscured by bias and ignorance. In 1987, lung cancer overtook breast cancer as the leading cause of cancer death among women in the United States, and now claims the lives of more women each year than breast, ovarian and cervical cancers combined.
November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, and yet the majority of people are unaware of its global threat. It is the top cancer killer of both men and women, killing almost twice as many women as any other cancer. It accounts for 27 percent of all cancer deaths and is the second leading cause of all deaths in the U.S. It has become a global health pandemic and is the No. 1 cancer killer worldwide.
Long-held misconceptions have perpetuated a lack of understanding among both patients and physicians. Lung cancer has been labeled as the smoker's disease, despite proof that more than 21 other deadly diseases are also caused by tobacco consumption. Having that stigma attached has encouraged many to mistakenly assume that only people who smoke are at risk. Hopefully, Rebecca's heroic effort in New York last week will change this and spur interest among the public and our nation's leaders to really focus on how to fight lung cancer. As of now, it remains the least funded cancer in terms of research dollars per death of all the major cancers.
But grabbing the public's attention has not been easy -- something Kelcey Harrison found out after a long journey. Like Rebecca, Kelcey used her feet to make a point. In honor of her best friend Jill Costello, Kelcey ran 3,500 miles across the United States from New York to San Francisco in four months to raise awareness about young lung cancer. Jill, who was an athlete and a nonsmoker, died from lung cancer when she was just 22. She was part of a growing trend puzzling doctors; young, healthy women with advanced lung cancer. Unfortunately, Kelcey's run received slim media coverage.
Barely 1 percent of women cite the disease as a top-of-mind concern. It is time to open our eyes to the reality that lung cancer is not just a smoker's disease. Only through increased awareness, particularly among younger generations, can we hope to drive those numbers down.
Only 17 percent of lung cancer cases are diagnosed early, when the disease is most curable. The Addario Lung Cancer Foundation is working to make early detection of the disease possible through our research association, the Addario Lung Cancer Medical Institute (ALCMI). ALCMI is driving research through collaboration between top oncologists at leading academic institutions, who work together with patients to provide better treatment and care to people battling lung cancer around the world.
We need to bring lung cancer out of the shadows. Increased awareness is vital in our fight because that is what drives the research and funding needed to eradicate this disease. Individual people can have a huge impact, and now is time to focus our efforts on transforming lung cancer into a survivable disease.