We speak with Tiffany Gowen, Director for the Commission on Patient- and Family-Centered Care, American College of Radiology, who shares her reflections on the inaugural National Lung Cancer Screening Day and her hopes for what 2023’s Screening Day could achieve.
What led you to start advocating for lung cancer patients?
When I began working in lung cancer, about five years ago, I did not fully understand the many challenges that surround the disease. The more I learnt about the significant stigma faced by people with or at high risk of lung cancer, the more upset I became. I strongly believe that everyone deserves the right to access screening, regardless of their smoking history.
Over time, I became extremely engaged with patient advocates. I started attending patient advocacy summits and learning about people’s experiences. It was a particular privilege to be able to stand by these individuals and tell their stories to our state representatives on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, in 2019. They were asking for funding for vital lung cancer research so that they could stay alive through access to more clinical trials.
This was a significant day for me, and it informed my mission to help patients make their voices heard, increase awareness, and spread a message of hope to the lung cancer community.
Why was National Lung Cancer Screening Day created?
National Lung Cancer Screening Day is a joint initiative between the following organisations: American College of Radiology, American Cancer Society, National Lung Cancer Roundtable, GO2 Foundation for Lung Cancer, and Radiology Health Equity Coalition.
Our motivation to create the awareness day came directly from President Biden’s reignition of the Cancer Moonshot. In the Lung Cancer Companion Brief that accompanied its full report, the President’s Cancer Panel tasked people, communities and health systems with developing communications campaigns to promote and raise awareness of lung cancer screening. Our organisations have taken that call to action seriously, creating National Lung Cancer Screening Day in response.
What were your main activities around the awareness day?
We wanted to increase accessibility to screening. On November 12, 2022, which was a Saturday, we asked screening centres throughout the US to open their doors, allowing many individuals to be screened without needing to take a day off work. Through promotion and marketing, these centres were able to provide screening to those who may otherwise have been unaware of this potentially lifesaving opportunity to detect lung cancer earlier.
This initiative also aimed to increase awareness of lung cancer screening within the community. We created the following complementary marketing and instructional materials to help facilities and advocacy groups spread the word about National Lung Cancer Screening Day:
- promotional flyers for facilities
- patient-centred promotional flyers available in English and Spanish
- a logistics guide on ‘Opening Your Center on a Saturday’
- a patient-centred marketing email template and a sample press release to help facilities engage their local news platforms.
Overall, National Lung Cancer Screening Day achieved the following:
- A total of 326 advocates and screening sites signed up.
- Approximately 560 people were screened.
- Screening centres reported an increase in screening volumes.
- Some sites that don’t usually open at the weekend reported plans to open on one Saturday each quarter because it was such a success.
What is the future of National Lung Cancer Screening Day?
This year, we are going to start our advertising and marketing efforts earlier to give sites more time to coordinate their opening in November. We also plan to create logistical tools – not only for sites but also for navigators, primary care physicians and advocacy organisations – to allow for more outreach.
Many organisations, including the state cancer coalitions, CDC-funded organisations and other lung cancer advocacy bodies, have already expressed interest in partnering with us to increase outreach. However, our motto is ‘the more the merrier’, and we hope to engage more organisations.
The aims of National Lung Cancer Screening Day are to increase patient engagement in lung cancer screening, improve access and help eliminate the stigma around the disease. The more correct information is out there, the better screening rates will become.
Do you have a message for the lung cancer community?
We need to be united in our responsibility to help people talk comfortably with their doctors about lung cancer screening without feeling judged or criticised.
There needs to be more information about lung cancer to help tackle stigma, and the focus should be on reducing the judgement people experience in relation to their smoking status and history. We need to get the message out there that ‘if you have lungs, you can get lung cancer’. It is essential to dispel the myth that smoking is the only possible cause of this cancer.
A positive message of hope needs to surround lung cancer screening to encourage increased participation in screening programmes. The more people get screened, the more cases of early-stage lung cancer will be detected, and the more survivors there will be. A higher number of survivors will amplify the voice of the lung cancer community. We must stand together as one to advocate for people with lung cancer.
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