IU cancer researcher finds lung cancer screening barriers among smokers

  • March 17, 2016

INDIANAPOLIS – An Indiana University cancer researcher's work on smokers has yielded clues as to why many don't undergo lung cancer screening.

Lisa Carter-Harris, Ph.D., assistant professor at the Indiana University School of Nursing and a researcher at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center, found three key barriers among smokers for not being screened for lung cancer. Those barriers, in turn, need to be examined to better improve communications between healthcare providers and patients, according to Dr. Carter-Harris.  

Her research was published in Health Expectations. It also caught the attention of the Lung Cancer Alliance, which recently invited her to speak at "The Impact of Stigma on Public Health and Public Health Policy" Congressional briefing on Capitol Hill.

Her research found these three overarching barriers that keep smokers from being screened: 

  • A sense of stigma that may stem from a generational divide that exists between patients, who are typically older, and today's younger health care providers. The older generation grew up in an era in which smoking was glamorized, while the younger generation has repeatedly been told about the dangers of tobacco use. People feel they would be blamed for their disease because of their smoking history, according to Dr. Carter-Harris.
  • There is a sense of distrust among patients about the health care system, tobacco industry, and  government.
  • People struggle with time constraints and scheduling conflicts, saying they simply do not have the time to be screened.

This new knowledge could lead to designing new communications between healthcare providers and patients about the importance of lung cancer screening, according to Dr. Carter-Harris.

"Health care provider recommendation has long been supported as a strong predictor of adherence to cancer screening," Dr. Carter-Harris said. "But equally important is the patient-provider communication when making decisions about cancer screening to ensure the provider has the opportunity to share the best evidence available and the patient has the opportunity to explore the decision with their values and preferences taken into account."

Dr. Carter-Harris is a scientist with the cancer center's Cancer Prevention and Control research program. The goals of that program are to prevent cancer occurrence and increase effectiveness and adherence to cancer screening. The program's researchers also work to educate the public both about the importance of stopping tobacco use and never starting its use.

"The invitation of Dr. Carter-Harris to speak on Capitol Hill is a credit to her commitment and seriousness in addressing the destigmatization of lung cancer among patients," David Haggstrom, M.D., co-leader of the Cancer Prevention and Control program, said. "We are grateful for the contributions she makes to the scientific community in the Cancer Prevention and Control program."

Lung cancer is the leading cancer cause of death. It will kill more people than colorectal, breast, and prostate cancer -- the second-, third-, and fourth-leading cancer killers – combined each year.

Lisa Carter-Harris, Ph.D.

Lisa Carter-Harris, Ph.D.

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Michael Schug