Biggest cancer killer of women?
Monday 25th January 2016
Chances are, you probably didn't realise that it's lung cancer.
Lung cancer is the biggest cancer killer of women and continues to be on the rise. This was one of the first and, undoubtedly, one of the most horrifying statistics I have learnt in my three weeks here at Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation. Although cancer has affected several members of my family, as is the case with so many of us, I was blind to the staggering facts surrounding lung cancer. I wanted to learn more – why is this statistic a reality and what level of optimism can be expected for the future?
After doing some initial research, it soon became apparent that the time during and after the Second World War formed the foundations of the social acceptance of smoking. Historically speaking, tobacco use was a predominantly male habit before the mid-1920s. After the Second World War, however, it was estimated that the number of female smokers had increased by 39%. Cigarettes were no longer a luxury item and were to become part of everyday life. The stresses and strains of the war saw women turn to tobacco through tough times, such as taking shelter during air raids. Throughout the war, women were temporarily emancipated from the constraints of being a ‘typical housewife’. They were able to undertake work roles in areas such as ammunition production, nursing and the transport industry. By contrast, the end of the war saw rapid readjustment to segregated gender roles, whereby women had more free time and were, in some instances, likely to smoke.
Changes to social structure, alongside the devastating sense of loss that the war inflicted, provides only partial explanation to the extent of smoking during this era. Advertising campaigns to promote smoking were commonplace. What’s more unsettling is that doctors and other trusted health professionals were used to endorse cigarettes in a positive light. Logically speaking, if your doctor was seen to be smoking then it must have been okay for you and everyone else. This was a false, misguided belief being sold to consumers in the thousands. Indoctrinating advertisements with vivid descriptions about the ‘wonderful’, innovative nature of tobacco products gave people reason to believe that they were doing the right thing. The supposedly healthy, happy individuals that featured in these ads were broadcast to the masses in an attempt to mask the horrifying truth about smoking.
Millions of pounds backed these persuasive advertising campaigns. Their hope-filled, positive messages effectively negated the sense of doom and gloom during this time. In terms of advertising today, 2012 saw a staggering $9.6 billion being spent on tobacco advertising in the US alone. Although most forms of smoking advertising is now prohibited in the UK, the vast amount of money used for tobacco endorsement remains a constant.
We are currently running a Women Against Lung Cancer campaign to raise crucial awareness. Over the years, we’ve been lucky enough to meet some inspirational female role models who are standing up to lung cancer and have been vital ambassadors of our Foundation.
Amongst these inspirational women is Victoria Herd, who lost her mother to lung cancer in March 2014. Victoria strived to ‘get something positive’ out of a negative situation and so began the #redlipstickselfie. Her mother’s signature look was to wear red lipstick, be it at the beach or even to her MRI scans, and so it remains a fitting tribute - with the tagline ‘kissing lung cancer goodbye’. To date, Victoria has raised £2,322.98 through her Just Giving page. These funds will go towards further research and the development of new, advanced treatments.
Educating young people on the dangers of smoking to help prevent lung cancer in the future is imperative. Although not all lung cancer sufferers are smokers, if we can help younger generations to say ‘no’ to cigarettes and ‘yes’ to healthy lungs, then we will be well on the way to beating lung cancer for good. Cut Films, our anti-tobacco youth engagement project, has been a crucial component in spreading the word to young people. Using a camera or smart phone, participants are encouraged to produce a film conveying a simple, yet effective message about the dangers of smoking.
So the future then; where do we go from here? Here at Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, we are doing everything possible to continue the fight against lung cancer. Without a doubt, none of the work that we do would be possible if it wasn’t for all of our amazing supporters. So to all of you, we say a huge ‘thank you’! Your support is always hugely appreciated. In order to decrease the number of cancer sufferers and ultimately save more lives, we need to keep our momentum going and remain more determined than ever to beat lung cancer once and for all. Through improved treatment and earlier diagnosis, fundraising efforts and continued research, we can strive harder than ever to achieve our vision of a world without lung cancer.
By Hannah-Ruth Cahill