November is Lung Cancer Awareness month. Although the disease is rarely talked about, it is the No. 1 killer among all Americans.

Unfortunately, the disease is burdened with many misconceptions and, as a result, lung cancer patients and their families suffer. The social stigma associated with lung cancer greatly affects a patient’s treatment and quality of life. Lung cancer patients are less likely to seek clinical trials. They are more likely to suffer from depression. Many lung cancer patients (smokers and nonsmokers) are so ashamed of their diagnosis that they keep it a secret from friends and family.

The biggest misconception is that lung cancer is a “smoker’s disease.” Although smoking does cause lung cancer, it is not the only cause.

Another misconception is that only older individuals get lung cancer. Although the majority of lung cancer patients tend to be over 60, anyone can get lung cancer, including children.

Radon in the home is actually the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers. Other factors that can cause or contribute to lung cancer include genetics as well as environmental and occupational pollutants. New research has even indicated that viruses may also increase a person’s risk of developing lung cancer.

Smoking greatly increases a person’s risk for many diseases and cancers, not just lung cancer. The risk of developing cancer in the bladder, esophagus, larynx, kidneys, pancreas, cervix and breast is increased by smoking. The No.1 killer among smokers is not lung cancer, but cardiovascular disease.

The smoking stigma also has affected federal funding for lung cancer research and treatment. Lung cancer is the No. 1 killer of Americans, both men and women, but less government money is devoted to fighting it than other major cancers. Most government agencies tend to invest their money in smoking cessation programs rather than on research that could expand our knowledge and treatment options for lung cancer patients.

By eliminating the stigma, we not only would help patients and caregivers, but also could open doors to new areas of research in the future.

Tricia R. Cote, who heads the New England Lung Cancer Project, is a resident of Livermore.