Lung Cancer Survivors May Feel Blame

The people interviewed for the study said that increased public support is important for lung cancer survivors. It is also important for doctors and other medical and public health professionals to better understand the needs of people who have lived with lung cancer.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death and the second most common non-skin cancer among both men and women in the United States. A big challenge for many lung cancer survivors is feeling that other people blame them for getting the disease. Some people assume that lung cancer is always caused by smoking, even though lung cancer has other possible causes.

People with lung cancer who used to or still smoke often feel that others see their smoking as a weakness, and that the smoker should have stopped sooner or never started. Some lung cancer survivors may also blame themselves and feel guilty about smoking.

For this study, the authors asked 21 people who had survived with the disease for at least six months questions about their feelings about having lung cancer.

Key Findings

  • People with lung cancer may feel blamed because of things people say. These may be people in the general public, but sometimes may be a family member, friend, or even their doctor. For example, one person who survived lung cancer told the interviewer, “[My doctor] said, ‘Well, you know, you really did that to yourself with your smoking all the time.’”
  • Some people with lung cancer said that there is a stigma related to having the disease. That is, other people think that having lung cancer is worse than having other cancers. For example, one person with lung cancer who was in the study said, “Some people aren’t sympathetic to lung cancer because [they believe] you smoked… when they’re showing pictures of [other cancer survivors, it’s obvious that]…they got cancer through no fault of their own…”
  • Because so many people die of lung cancer, some people who have the disease are surprised if they live a long time after being told they have it. Sometimes their friends and family expected them to die, too, so it seems strange to still see them alive. The person who survives lung cancer may feel cut off from others, like they no longer fit in.
  • Some people with lung cancer said that they feel that the general public does not care about lung cancer, so little attention is given to the disease or people who have it. One person told the interviewer, “If it’s not pink and on an M&M, well God help you because there’s just not a lot of sympathy or money out there for you…[We] have people dying. You know, where should our attention be?…and that frustrates me.”


Rohan EA, Boehm J, Allen KG, Poehlman J. In their own words: a qualitative study of the psychosocial concerns of posttreatment and long-term lung cancer survivors.external icon Journal of Psychosocial Oncology 2016:1–15.