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Lung cancer not just a smokers' disease

When Dana Reeve, the actress and widow of Superman actor Christopher Reeve, announced that she had lung cancer, people were stunned.

Not only was she young and beautiful, and not only had she just lost her husband — she had never been a smoker.

Lung cancer — which kills more Americans every year than breast, prostate, colon and pancreatic cancer combined — is a terrible thing. But if you don't smoke, you might think of it as something that happens to other people. People who, bless their hearts, have a nasty habit that they really ought to do something about.

Time to wipe off that smug attitude.

First of all, who among us is entirely virtuous when it comes to health habits?

Yes, smokers should quit (and we have some ideas to help you with that on Page 8). But blaming lung cancer patients has so stigmatized the disease, experts say this is one reason it doesn't draw the kind of money that more "sympathetic'' diseases like breast cancer get.

Consider this: Though it's the deadliest cancer, lung cancer research gets the least funding, per death, of any major cancer.

You'll find that and other appalling statistics in a new study, Out of the Shadows: Women and Lung Cancer, from Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. Google the title and you can read it for yourself.

Another fact from the study: Dana Reeve, who died of cancer in 2006, wasn't all that unusual. One in five women (and one in 12 men) diagnosed with lung cancer have never smoked.

Why? Well, they're working on it. But we spend a lot more money treating lung cancer ($9.6 billion) than we do investigating why and how it starts.

Lung cancer needs its own version of breast cancer's pink ribbons, or heart disease's red dresses.

That's where the American Lung Association comes in. Its "Inspire Life Breathe Free'' campaign — which aims to educate about all lung diseases in women — has a pretty blue dragonfly insignia that might just catch on.

I have my dragonfly pin from last year's fundraiser, and I plan to wear it on Friday to this year's event, where I'll be the emcee.

It's a strong program, with speakers and presentations to educate and inspire, plus a fashion show from Beall's and a silent auction with lots of great stuff, including vacations and golf packages (don't forget, Father's Day is just around the corner). The event runs from 3:30 to 7 p.m. (late arrivals welcome) at the Hilton St. Petersburg — Carillon Parkway. Register by Thursday at www.BreatheFreeTampaBay.com, or call (727) 347-6133.

There'll be plenty of food, and a cash bar, so come by for happy hour and say hello. I'd love to meet you there.

Lung cancer not just a smokers' disease 06/04/10 [Last modified: Thursday, June 3, 2010 3:56pm]
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