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Stigma and nihilism and the lung cancer diagnosis

The diagnosis of cancer is stressful and confronting for anyone. However, there is emerging evidence that lung cancer patients, more so than those with other cancers, may feel stigmatised by their disease.

For people with lung cancer, the diagnosis of lung cancer may be compounded by feelings of guilt, shame, distress and isolation. Lung cancer can occur in both smokers and non-smokers, none of whom should suffer the added burden of stigma due to their disease.

A review of the evidence commissioned by Cancer Australia suggests that the stigma and nihilism associated with lung cancer may lead to delays in seeking treatment.1  It’s important to address this stigma to ensure that all people with cancer access and receive the treatment and support they need.

Although some people diagnosed with lung cancer may feel that treatment may be of little benefit, new and constantly improving treatments are likely to continue to improve lung cancer outcomes.

Lung cancer diagnosed at an earlier stage, particularly when confined to the lung, is associated with improved survival.2,3  Increasing community awareness and understanding of the negative impact that stigma can have on people with lung cancer is important in ensuring that all people with lung cancer receive the treatment and support that they need.

Cancer Australia is undertaking ongoing research into the impact of stigma and nihilism on lung cancer diagnosis, treatments and care, in an effort to improve the survival and wellbeing of all Australians affected by cancer, and their families and carers.

View A systematic review of the impact of stigma and nihilism on lung cancer outcomes.

For more information:

Click on the links below to view the following audio-resources found on YouTube:


  1. Chambers et al. A Systematic Review of the Impact of Stigma and Nihilism on Lung Cancer Outcomes. BMC Cancer 2012, 12:184
  2. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare & Cancer Australia 2011. Lung cancer in Australia: an overview. Cancer series no. 64. Cat. no. CAN 58. Canberra: AIHW.
  3. Howlader N, Noone AM, Krapcho M, Neyman N, Aminou R, Altekruse SF, Kosary CL, Ruhl J, Tatalovich Z, Cho H, Mariotto A, Eisner MP, Lewis DR, Chen HS, Feuer EJ, Cronin KA (eds). SEER Cancer Statistics Review, 1975-2009 (Vintage 2009 Populations), National Cancer Institute. Bethesda, MD, http://seer.cancer.gov/csr/1975_2009_pops09/, based on November 2011 SEER data submission, posted to the SEER web site, April 2012.