Today marks World Lung Cancer Day, and the NHS is encouraging people with lung cancer symptoms to urgently visit their GP in their latest “Help Us Help You” campaign.
The launch of the awareness campaign comes at a crucial time, as recent statistics suggest that people experiencing lung cancer symptoms and those at an increased risk of the disease may not be coming forward, despite it being the most significant cause of cancer deaths in England.
Referral rates for other cancers returned to pre-pandemic levels after the first wave of COVID-19, whereas lung cancer referrals only returned to pre-pandemic levels in May 2022. Health experts are imploring the public to visit their GP immediately if they have lung cancer symptoms, which include a cough that lasts for more than three weeks, coughing up blood, or persistent breathlessness.
Help Us, Help You
There are around 40,000 cases of lung cancer diagnosed in England annually, causing 26,410 deaths in 2021, making it the fifth largest cause of death in the country. NHS awareness campaigns and early diagnosis initiatives have resulted in 25% of GP referrals now being for suspected cancer.
The Help Us, Help You campaign will target groups who are most at risk of lung cancer, including those over 60 and people from working-class backgrounds who are less likely to visit their GP. The campaign will run across TV, video-on-demand services, radio, and social media in the coming months to spread awareness of lung cancer symptoms.
Professor Peter Johnson, National Clinical Director for Cancer, said: “We are going further and faster in our efforts to tackle cancer and have seen record numbers of people coming forward for tests and checks in the last year thanks to our campaigns and early diagnosis initiatives, but for lung cancer, we have not seen referrals bounce back at the same rate as other cancers.
“It is vital that people stay alert against suspected lung cancer symptoms, so if you have a continuous cough or breathlessness, don’t ignore or assume it’s something else, please visit your GP and get it checked out – it probably won’t be cancer but catching it early can help save lives.”
Cally Palmer, NHS England National Cancer Director, said: “We know for a fact most people who get diagnosed with lung cancer early go on to survive, so it is imperative that people are aware of the symptoms and come forward as quickly as possible. The NHS is here to help, and our services are open, so people should not hesitate to come forward if they notice potential lung cancer symptoms.”
Checking for lung cancer symptoms saved Tracy’s life
59-year-old Tracy Bourne from Stoke-on-Trent first noticed a persistent cough around Christmas 2018 but did not visit her GP until March 2019, when she developed a bad chest and felt sick.
An X-ray identified a shadow on her right lung, and she was referred for further scans, later being diagnosed with lung cancer and discovering she may have had the tumour for eight years. By mid-May, she had undergone surgery to remove part of her long and received the all-clear just a month later.
Tracy commented: “I just thought it was a chest infection and, even though I was being sent for scans, I kept putting off the thought it was lung cancer because I have never smoked in my life!
“It just goes to show how important it is to get help if something isn’t right. To anyone else to is experiencing a cough that hasn’t gone away, I would really encourage you to contact a medical professional and get yourself checked out.
“I am just so grateful to that GP who realised that my cough might have been more than an infection and sent me for the initial X-ray. Without a doubt, it saved my life.”
Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay concluded: “We know that the earlier you catch cancer, the better the chances of survival, and the ‘Help Us Help You’ initiative is empowering people to come forward for screening – particularly for lung cancer, which is the biggest cause of death by cancer in England.
“I want to thank all those that continue to be involved in this life-saving campaign, which aims to increase the number of cancer patients diagnosed at earlier stages from half to three-quarters by 2028. If you have any of the key lung cancer symptoms set out by the NHS, I urge you to see your GP without delay to get checked out – early diagnosis is absolutely vital to beat this disease.”