Number-One Cancer Killer Not What You Think

Armen Hareyan's picture

A national public service campaign, Code Blue for Lung Cancer, says that the nation's number-one cancer killer might not be what you think. Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer in America. Earlier this year, The American Legacy Foundation released a research study stating that two-thirds of women inaccurately believed breast cancer to be the leading cause of cancer death among women.

Code Blue for Lung Cancer is designed to raise awareness of the deadly toll of lung cancer in our country. TV programs and the news focus on a variety of cancers, but often overlook lung cancer, because of the stigma associated with the disease, according to the American Legacy Foundation, a national public health foundation devoted to keeping young people from smoking and helping all smokers quit.

The foundation produced Code Blue as part of a partnership with the National Association of Broadcasters, to raise awareness about preventing lung cancer and increase survival rates for those struggling with it. Code Blue includes a 30-minute documentary that explores the devastating impact of lung cancer on four families and discusses how to reduce lung cancer deaths, primarily through early diagnosis and by quitting smoking. The campaign, in both English and Spanish, also includes radio and television public service announcements, a guidebook for local broadcasters, and an accompanying online component.

"Code Blue for Lung Cancer was created to focus attention on the disease that claims more American lives than any other cancer," said Dr. Cheryl Healton, President & CEO of the American Legacy Foundation. "Since many people think that smokers should know better and expect related health problems when they smoke, as a nation we do not give enough attention to lung cancer treatment and prevention."


Lung cancer accounts for 28 percent of all cancer deaths in the United States(1), and more Americans lose their lives to lung cancer annually than breast, prostate and colon cancers combined. The foundation is saddened to report that two of the four storytellers who participated in the Code Blue for Lung Cancer Campaign, Susan DeWitt, Wayne Greer and Joseph Vincent, recently lost their long struggles with lung cancer. This news further underscores the need for continued research and awareness about prevention and treatment of this disease.

Eighty-five percent of people diagnosed with lung cancer are current or former smokers, whom many perceive as having had the power to avoid a lung cancer diagnosis if only they had been able to quit. However, research shows two things: that nicotine is highly addictive, and that while 70 percent of smokers want to quit, many lack the tools and resources to quit for good.

When considering patients with lung cancer, many Americans treat them with a "you should have known better" attitude, which fails to acknowledge the young age at which most smokers start and the highly addictive nature of nicotine, said Healton. "Lung cancer takes a huge social and economic burden on our country each year," she said. "We need to be more supportive of smokers trying to quit, more empathetic to people and families suffering from lung cancer, and more vigilant in ensuring more research and funding is devoted to lung cancer."

Former President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara Bush, echo these words in public service announcements he appeared in for Code Blue. Former President Bush's message says: "Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States. It's a national tragedy killing thousands each year, leaving behind devastated families. Cigarette smoking causes most cases of lung cancer. If you or a loved one smoke, get the help you need to quit now."

Former President Bush has been a long-time champion with his wife Barbara, in the fight against cancer after losing one of their children, Robin Bush, to leukemia in 1953. Former President Bush co-chairs C-Change, formerly the National Dialogue on Cancer.