The NHS will visit thousands of people in England’s lung cancer hotspots with giant inflatable lungs this month, to raise awareness of potential cancer symptoms and help catch cancer earlier.
The Let’s Talk Lung Cancer roadshow, run between the NHS and Roy Castle Lung Foundation, kicks off as new survey data reveals just two in five respondents (41%) would see their GP if they had a persistent cough for three weeks or more.
Half (50%) of the survey respondents also believed that lung cancer only affects a small amount of people every year in England, when in fact it’s the leading cause of cancer deaths in the UK.
While one in seven (14%) individuals believe that lung cancer only affects smokers.
One person who never thought she would be somebody to get lung cancer is Sinéad Kay, from Cumbria, who was recently diagnosed with stage 2 lung cancer after friends encouraged her to get her persistent cough checked out.
Sinéad said: “I never thought as a 40-something non-smoker, that I would be diagnosed with stage 2 lung cancer.
“Thankfully for me, it was caught relatively early, so it was operable”.
Diagnosing lung cancer early dramatically increases people’s chances of survival – those diagnosed at stages one or two are nearly 20 times more likely to survive for five years or more than those whose cancer is caught at later stages – so Sinead is extremely grateful she came forward for a test.
She said: “I’m recovering well, and I’ll be around to see my four beautiful daughters grow up and build their own happy lives and be part of their achievements.
She is now encouraging other people to have their lung health checked if they experience often overlooked symptoms like a persistent cough, that lasts for more than three weeks.
“I would encourage anyone who has had a cough for three weeks or more to get it checked…even just for peace of mind, it is so much better to know, and the sooner cancer is caught, the easier it is to treat”.
As part of the roadshow, specialist teams of volunteers will assist the campaign to educate the public and catch more cancers early.
Thousands of people are expected to see the giant inflatable lungs in communities across the country – including supermarkets, shopping centres and local high streets – with the public urged to get checked if they have signs and symptoms.
The inflatable organs allow visitors to observe and learn about typical lung structures, lung health, and the effects of smoking.
Community engagement teams and volunteers will be on hand to talk to members of the public and encourage those with suspected symptoms to visit their GP as soon as possible.
This comes as survey data also shows just over a third would visit their GP if they had a chest infection that kept coming back (38%) or had a loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss (37%) which are lesser-known signs of lung cancer.
NHS National Clinical Director for Cancer, Professor Peter Johnson, said: “While lung cancer is one of the most common cancers, with tens of thousands of people diagnosed each year, our recent survey found that half of people believe lung cancer only affects a small amount of people every year, with many admitting they would not see their GP for a persistent cough of three weeks or more.
“This is exactly why the NHS is running awareness campaigns like our inflatable lung roadshow, which is going into the heart of communities to catch people’s attention, start a conversation about cancer, and raise awareness about symptoms and when to get checked out.
“Talking about cancer saves lives, and our message to the public is simple – don’t hold off if you have worrying symptoms such as a persistent cough or aches and pains when breathing – it might not be cancer but catching it early gives people the best chance of treating it”.
Chief Executive of Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, Paula Chadwick, said: “It is staggering that half of those surveyed still do not know how prevalent lung cancer is. We believe this stems from a reluctance, even aversion, to talking about lung cancer, and that is largely because of its links to smoking and associated stigma.
“That’s why these events are so important. They give us the opportunity to have one-on-one conversations with people who may not realise they are at risk, who may not recognise potential symptoms or could feel unable to act on them.
“If we can help just one person get diagnosed earlier when lung cancer can be treated more easily, then that is worth doing”.
Health Minister, Will Quince said: “Cancer survival rates are improving with more people being treated than ever before but 35,000 still die from lung cancer every year so it is vital we use every opportunity possible to reduce this and these roadshows are a great example of the NHS working together with the charitable sector to raise awareness of symptoms and save lives.
“We have also announced the use of artificial intelligence to speed up lung cancer diagnosis, launched a targeted national screening programme and opened 127 community diagnostic centres which have already delivered more than five million checks.
“Targeted lung health checks can also make a real difference. Recent data showed out of 2,204 people diagnosed with lung cancer across 42 sites, 76% were at an early stage compared to less than a third in 2018”.
The roadshow kicked off in Hull this week and will travel around the country throughout the month of November – Lung Cancer Awareness Month – as part of the NHS Help Us, Help You campaign.
It will visit areas where NHS data shows significantly higher rates of lung cancer, with the roadshow aiming to begin conversations about the illness and its symptoms, such as having a cough for three weeks or more.
The NHS Long Term Plan, published in 2019, set an ambition of saving thousands more lives each year by dramatically increasing the number of people diagnosed with cancer at stages one and two, when cancer is easier to treat.
Earlier this year, 600 people were diagnosed with lung cancer through an NHS mobile truck scheme with over three-quarters (77%) caught at earlier stages one and two.
The NHS’s Help Us, Help You lung cancer campaign focuses specifically on raising awareness of the key symptom of lung cancer – a cough that lasts for three weeks or more. While it might seem like nothing serious, if it is cancer, finding it early means it’s more treatable and can save lives. The campaign will encourage those who have this symptom to contact their GP practice and remind the public that the NHS wants to see them.
In addition to the symptom of a cough for three weeks or more, other symptoms of lung cancer include:
1. chest infections that keep coming back
2. coughing up blood
3. a long-standing cough that gets worse
4. an ache or pain when breathing or coughing
5. persistent breathlessness
6. persistent tiredness or lack of energy
7. loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss .