Fast Facts – Cancer

Historical perspective:

Once referred to as “the C word”, the stigma related to cancer has reduced significantly in recent decades. Despite this, stigma persists, particularly with some cancers more than others.

  • – Cancer was associated with death, so healthcare providers avoided telling people that they had cancer to avoid being cruel and taking away hope[1]
  • – The American Cancer Society was formed in 1913 to alleviate the fear and fatalism of cancer
  • – Anesthesia and chemotherapy increased survival rates, and with them increased efforts to find a cause and cure for cancer. This progress began to lessen the fear.
  • – Stigma is based in fear and silence, which interfere with timely diagnosis and treatment, and subsequent recovery, in addition to isolation.

Lung cancer:

  • – 54% of people with lung cancer believe that there is a stigma related to having lung cancer.[2]
  • – 47% of people with lung cancer believe that they are treated differently than other types of cancer. [3]
  • – Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death[4]
    • – 18% of people with lung cancer never smoked
    • – 60% are former smokers
    • – Lung cancer receives a significantly lower percentage of funding compared to other cancers.[5]
  • – Only 12% of survey respondents (said lung cancer should receive more funding (compared to 25% for breast cancer). [6]

Colorectal Cancer:

  • – Half of patients with rectal cancer surveyed felt stigmatized because of the cancer. Those with a colostomy more so.[7]

Breast Cancer:

  • – The stigma surrounding breast cancer affecting women has lessened remarkably in recent years. (Read guest blog article by Leslie Jay-Gould here.)
  • – Men get breast cancer too, and they often feel embarrassed because of erroneous thinking that it is a women’s disease.

[1] Holland, JC and Gooen-Piels, J. (Eds) (2003). Holland-Frei Cancer Medicine, 6th edition, BC Decker.

[2] Lung cancer and social stigma: Survey results, Lung Cancer Alliance & Astrazeneca. Accessed 8/1/16,

[3] Weiss, J., Stephenson, BJ., Edwards, LJ., Rigney, M., and Copeland, A. (2014). Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare; 7: 293–300. DOI: 10.2147/JMDH.S65153.

[4] Lung Cancer Alliance,, Accessed 8/2/16

[5] ibid

[6] Lung cancer and social stigma: Survey results, Lung Cancer Alliance & Astrazeneca., Accessed 8/1/16

[7] MacDonald, LD and Anderson, HR (1984). Stigma in patients with rectal cancer: a community study. Journal of Epidemiology of Community Health; 38(4): 284–290.

Spotlight Calendar

Each month B Stigma-Free will spotlight a different area for attention. Blog articles, fact sheets and social media emphasis will call attention to the issue of stigma and the identified topic. Do you have suggestions for us to include? Tell us your ideas here.

2016 Spotlight Topics:

January 2016 – Socio Economic Status

February 2016 – Eating Disorders

March 2016 – Gender

April 2016 – Substance Abuse

May 2016 – Mental Illness

June 2016 – Older People

July 2016 – Facial Differences

August 2016 – Cancer

September 2016 – Caregivers

October 2016 – Learning Disabilities

November 2016 – PTSD

December 2016 – HIV