Thirty-nine percent of cancer deaths in New Jersey last year were attributed to lung cancer.
One individual who has defied those odds is lung cancer survivor Marianne Sheehan, whose son Brent Sheehan, a Hoboken resident, has taken up the fight against the disease in his mother's name.
Earlier in the year, Sheehan joined the New Jersey based, non-profit organization, Lung Cancer Circle of Hope (LCCH), which strives to eradicate the myths surrounding lung cancer by educating the public, medical community, and public officials about the facts of the disease.
He has spoken out during this month, which is Lung Cancer Awareness Month.
"The more you speak to people, the more you realize how many people, not just smokers, are affected by the disease," said Sheehan. "A lot of patients don't get to advocate for more research because there is only a 15 percent survival rate. We have to be the voice for them."
Sheehan's main objective is to increase the funding for lung cancer research, which receives a considerably smaller amount from the federal government than other forms of cancer. Many advocates attribute the low survival rate to the lack of funding.
The Circle of Hope
On Jan. 1 of 2006, Susan Levin, who had lost her mother, a non-smoker, to lung cancer, began LCCH with a group of individuals who had been touched personally by the disease.
"It was the response to the need for a grassroots effort to effectively create awareness of the number one cancer killer of men and women," said Levin. "Lung cancer needs to be recognized as the national health crisis that it is."
LCCH consists of a seven-member Board of Trustees that travels across New Jersey to give seminars at medical centers. The organization also has a Medical Advisory Board to assist them as well as an extensive e-mail network of family members and survivors throughout the state.
As part of Lung Cancer Awareness Month, which New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine and Hoboken Mayor David Roberts declared to be November, LCCH will visit eight New Jersey hospitals and take part in fundraising events such as the SJ Lung Cancer Walk & Run that took place Sunday, Nov. 5 in Pennsauken and the Every Breath Counts Race on Saturday, Nov. 18 on the Atlantic City boardwalk.
Approximately six out of every 10 individuals with lung cancer will die within a year of being diagnosed with the disease. Between seven and eight will die within two years of being diagnosed.
There are currently over 350,000 Americans living with the disease, of which 95 percent will not live past the next five years.
The cancer is so dangerous because most cases are detected in the latter stages when surgery, which is considered a cure, is not possible, said Levin.
According to the American Lung Association, an estimated 87 percent of lung cancer cases stem from smoking, but additional causes include exposure to air pollution, asbestos, and radon, a radiological poison that can accumulate in buildings and drinking water.
Although lung cancer is the number one cancer killer in both sexes in America, having surpassed breast cancer for women in 1987, men still have a higher rate than women, with black males having a disproportionately 43 percent higher incidence than their white counterparts.
An estimated $9.6 billion is spent annually in lung cancer treatment in the U.S., according to The National Cancer Institute, which invested only $266.1 million of its nearly $4.8 billion cancer 2005 research budget towards lung cancer.
Although the mortality rate amongst Americans with lung cancer peaked around 1990 and has been steadily decreasing ever since, the American Lung Association estimates there will be 162,460 U.S. deaths attributed to lung cancer by the end of 2006, with over three million individuals dying worldwide.
"More research dollars must be allocated to finding a cure and those already diagnosed must be offered compassion, not judgment," added Levin.
For more information about treatment options and prevention, visit http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/lung.
Michael Mullins can be reached at email@example.com.