NHS campaign highlights persistent cough as possible sign of lung cancer

In collaboration with the Press Association

A new NHS campaign will encourage people with a persistent cough to see their GP in case it is an early sign of lung cancer

Almost 24,000 people a year in England are diagnosed when their lung cancer is at a late stage, with only around 15 per cent of cases diagnosed at the earliest stage, when treatment is most likely to be successful.

The next phase of the NHS Be Clear on Cancer campaign is launched today to improve awareness of the signs and symptoms of lung cancer and encourage people with a persistent cough to see their GP early. The first national campaign was in 2012.

Survival rates are five times better among people diagnosed at the earliest stage than those diagnosed at a late stage, according to official statistics.

New data from the Department of Health show that almost three-quarters (73 per cent) of people are unaware that lung cancer is England's biggest cancer killer, and four out of ten people are unaware that a cough that has lasted three weeks or more is a potential symptom of lung cancer.

Professor Kevin Fenton, director of health and wellbeing at Public Health England, said: "These figures show that more needs to be done to raise awareness of the signs of lung cancer and ultimately save more lives.

"The results from the previous campaign are really encouraging but awareness levels of a persistent cough as a symptom of lung cancer are still low.

"Only by increasing awareness of potential symptoms, and encouraging people to visit their doctor sooner rather than later, will we see the number of early diagnoses, and people surviving the disease, start to rise."

The campaign is aimed at men and women over the age of 50, as they are most at risk. Almost a fifth (19 per cent) of this group say they have not visited their doctor in the past when they have had a persistent cough. The majority thought it would clear up on its own.

Sean Duffy, national clinical director for cancer at NHS England, said: “Awareness campaigns like this are especially important in getting people with potential symptoms into doctors’ surgeries. During the regional pilot, trusts within the campaign area saw a 14 per cent increase in lung cancer cases diagnosed compared with a year earlier, whereas there was only a 4.7 per cent increase in trusts outside the pilot area.

“However, more needs to be done for our survival rates to be as good as the best in Europe. If they were, it is estimated that around 1,300 deaths could be avoided each year.”

Sarah Woolnough, Cancer Research UK's executive director of policy, said: "Detecting lung cancer early and ensuring people get the best possible treatment is vital for better survival. Lung cancer remains our biggest killer - responsible for around a quarter of all cancer deaths - and the UK's survival rates lag behind comparable countries.

"Campaigns to increase awareness of the disease and its symptoms, and to reduce the fear of getting signs checked out are very welcome. We can and must do more to improve our lung cancer survival rates, and alongside campaigns, Cancer Research UK is investing in research initiatives to help our understanding of the disease and to develop new and kinder treatments to beat it."

The campaign will see advertisements featuring real GPs on TV, print and radio from today until mid-August. Face-to-face events will also take place in a number of shopping centres.

Copyright Press Association 2013