Study Finds Stigma of Having Lung Cancer Persists

ANDREW J. ROTH @andrewjohnroth
Wednesday, January 27, 2016
Joan H. Schiller, MD

Joan H. Schiller, MD

Results of a recent study show that patients, caregivers, healthcare providers, and members of the general public have stronger negative attitudes toward lung cancer compared with breast cancer. The study, published in PLOS ONE, analyzed survey and implicit-association test results from 1778 individuals.

To gain insight into the methodology and impacts of this research, Oncology Nursing News interviewed Joan H. Schiller, MD, an author of the study.

Schiller is the Chief of the Hematology/Oncology Division at University of Texas Southwestern, Deputy Director of the Harold C. Simmons Cancer Center and holds the Andrea L. Simmons Distinguished Chair in Cancer Research.

Oncology Nursing News: How was this study conducted?

Schiller: It was an online study and it involved a unique method called the implicit-association test. This is a test where people are shown two pictures and two words and they have to put the picture and word together — the study measured how quickly people did that. Some of the words and pictures had to do with breast cancer and some had to do with lung cancer.

It was a large study of about 1700 people — people in the community, patients, caregivers, healthcare providers and more.

It turns out that, basically, people matched breast cancer pictures with more favorable word more quickly than they did lung cancer. With lung cancer pictures, they matched with words such as 'bad,' 'dirty' or 'contagious' much faster than they matched breast cancer with those words.

Can you explain the time element of the methodology?

The idea here is that small time differences can measure subconscious biases. The differences were in milliseconds, but those differences can determine a reflexive response.

What was the reasoning behind comparing breast cancer, specifically, and lung cancer?

Breast cancer has really overcome stigma, compared with how it was viewed in the 1960s, when it was a disease in the closet. Breast cancer represents a cancer that people are behind conquering, and it is a cancer that everyone is aware of.

Were you surprised by the results?

I was not. Our hypothesis was that there would be more of a subconscious bias against lung cancer compared with breast cancer, and that's what we saw.

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