David Brooks, the highly-regarded columnist for The New York Times, recently wrote about Americans having a tremendous capacity for fantasy.
He used Jay Gatsby and wealth, Hugh Hefner and sex, and John Wayne and the American West as examples of our fantasist and realist impulses. And of course, he took a shot at the alternate realities of our current political environment.
Here’s another fantasy that Americans are stuck on: that only smoking can cause lung cancer.
The facts are clear: science has identified many other causations. Yet, whenever someone is diagnosed with lung cancer, our first assumption is that they smoked. The fact is up to 70% of lung cancer patients now have either quit smoking decades ago or never smoked at all.
Perhaps this fantasy is self-inoculation, and allows us to mentally separate ourselves from the risk of diagnosis of a brutal cancer.
Unfortunately, this has created a stigma that impedes our fight to make lung cancer a chronically managed disease within ten years. It has impaired treatments. It has affected funding for research. And it has influenced our understanding of how lung cancer works and who should take the blame.
The reality is that a stigma never tells the full story. And in the case of lung cancer, it doesn’t even come close.