A fate worse than death

Reuters (via Yahoo! News) has a story about the double whammy of a lung cancer diagnosis. (See Lung cancer patients fight stigma.)

“I’m sorry. You don’t have breast cancer,” the oncologist told Charmaine Atkenson.
The 48-year-old mother of two had something far worse — stage 4 lung cancer. It had spread to her spine, bursting the bone open. It was not only a sentence of death; it was a judgment.

Even though Atkenson never smoked, she felt almost ashamed. “I found that I never would even say what kind of cancer I had. Or I would always start by saying I never smoked and I never lived with a smoker,” she said in a telephone interview.

The article goes on to explain that funding for lung cancer research is much lower per patient than for breast cancer or prostate cancer, two of the top-funded variants.

This is not exactly a new story. I wrote about a very similar article three years ago. (See Research funding levels are only part of the story.) Yet it seems the advocates are still on the case as well they should be.

It’s an interesting question of equity: How should research dollars be doled out? I wouldn’t mind seeing a system that laid out a set of parameters and weights to determine funding. Certainly dollars per patient would be a metric, but there would be others, too. For example, disease severity, ability to efficiently use research dollars, economic impact of the disease, and yes, possibly even impact of lifestyle in getting the disease should be considered. I suggested in my earlier post that the lung cancer people should follow the example of the Myelin Repair Foundation in encouraging efficient use of resources and rapid progress. I still believe that.

May 30, 2008

3 thoughts on “A fate worse than death”

  1. It makes sense that lung cancer should have lower spending because we already know how to prevent the overwhelming fraction of lung cancer. If we had similar information about breast cancer there would be less urgency to the research.

    It is of course tragic when someone gets lung cancer without smoking, but such a scenario is similar to rare cancer such as gall bladder cancer – tragic, but not very common, and thus poorly funded.

    In coming up with guidelines for funding one also needs to consider other factors, such as the age at which untreated people die, which is similar for lung and breast cancer, but typically higher for prostate cancer, which is common but as a result gets less funding (and it is not because we don’t care about males).

  2. See she may of been faced next to 2nd hand smoke, which, studies have shown that it may be even worse then smoking. The doctor should of asked if she was near anyone that smoked

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