Early trip to the GP gives big boost to lung cancer patients

Cancer Research UK

A powerful campaign urging people with a three week old cough to get checked out by their doctor has resulted in a dramatic rise in the number of lung cancers detected earlier according to an analysis of the results announced by Cancer Research UK today.

“It is great news that this campaign has raised awareness of lung cancer symptoms among those most at risk of the disease”
Dr Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK's chief executive

Experts say this will offer patients their best chance of life-saving surgery and longer survival for the biggest cancer killer1.

The hard-hitting Be Clear On Cancer Campaign2 led to around 700 extra patients being diagnosed with lung cancer - many at an early stage – and resulted in around 300 more patients getting surgery which gives them the best chance of prolonged survival.

The Public Health England campaign which is supported by Cancer Research UK, NHS England and the Department of Health, ran throughout England from May-June 2012. People were urged to go to the GP if they had a cough lasting longer than three weeks.

As a result almost 10 per cent more people (around 700) were diagnosed with lung cancer than in the same months the previous year and around 400 more patients had their lung cancer picked up at an early stage – the earlier cancer is detected the more likely treatment is to be successful. There was also a significant decrease in the proportion of people diagnosed at a late stage.

And best of all around 300 more of those diagnosed received surgery3 which is vital for better survival.

Dr Mick Peake, lung cancer expert and consultant in respiratory medicine at the University of Leicester, said: “We are starting to see a dramatic change in potentially curative treatments for lung cancer. As a result of the Be Clear on Cancer campaign we’ve seen as much progress, particularly in the proportion of patients having an operation for their lung cancer, in those three months as in the previous two years."4

Dr Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: “It is great news that this campaign has raised awareness of lung cancer symptoms among those most at risk of the disease. By acting quickly if you notice a possible symptom, you can give yourself the best chance of survival. In many cases it won’t be cancer, but it is better to be sure and, if it is cancer, to detect it earlier rather than later.

“Earlier diagnosis, combined with the pioneering research that brings better and kinder treatments to patients, means we are starting to make much needed headway against a type of cancer that has killed millions.  This vital combination will help bring forward the day when no one dies prematurely from lung cancer.”

Sean Duffy, National Clinical Director for Cancer at NHS England, said:  “Until recently a lung cancer patient in Sweden was nearly 70 per cent more likely to survive their disease for at least five years than if they lived in England. So I am therefore delighted that this new set of figures shows that the Be Clear on Cancer campaign has helped speed up our progress in lung cancer survival with hundreds of patients receiving potential life saving surgery as a result of this campaign"5

Professor Kevin Fenton, Director of Health and Wellbeing at PHE, said:  “To see such encouraging results from the first national Be Clear on Cancer lung campaign is very reassuring. It shows that we can make a difference when it comes to one of the biggest cancer killers. Public Health England is committed to helping prevent and diagnose cancers earlier. We are now looking to re-run the campaign in 2014 which we hope will improve survival for even more patients.”

ENDS

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Notes to Editor

1. Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer death in the UK (2010), accounting for more than a fifth of all cancer deaths. 

2. In England, there was a statistically significant increase of 9.1% in the number of lung cancer cases diagnosed in patients first seen for lung cancer during the months surrounding the Be Clear on Cancer lung cancer campaign (May-July 2012) in comparison to the same months in 2011 (an increase of around 700 cases; from 7,639 cases in May-July 2011 to 8,335 cases in May-July 2012) whilst there was no statistically significant change during the control period. Additionally, there was a statistically significant increase of 3.6 percentage points for the proportion of Non Small Cell Lung Cancers (including carcinoid tumours) diagnosed at an early stage (stage I and II) for patients first seen during the campaign months (May-July 2012) in comparison to the same months in 2011 (1,424/6,092 in May-July 2011 compared to 1,840/6,831 May-July 2012), and there was a corresponding statistically significant decrease in the proportion diagnosed at a late stage (stage IIIB and IV) (3,809/6,092 in May-July 2011 compared to 4,070/6,831 in May-July 2012), whilst there were no statistically significant changes in these proportions during the control period. Source: data extract from the National Lung Cancer Audit provided upon request from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).

3. There was a statistically significant increase of 2.3 percentage points for the proportion of patients receiving surgical resection as a first definitive treatment for those first seen for lung cancer during the Be Clear on Cancer lung cancer campaign months in comparison to the same months in the previous year (1,043/7,639 in May-July 2011 compared to 1,331/8,335 in May-July 2012), whilst there was no statistically significant change in this proportion during the control period. Source: data extract from the National Lung Cancer Audit provided upon request from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).

4. The proportion of patients diagnosed with lung cancer in England who received surgery as a first definitive treatment increased by 2.4 percentage points between 2010 and 2012 (from 3,587/28,602 in 2010 to 4,632/31,003 in 2012). See also 3 above. Source: data extract from the National Lung Cancer Audit provided upon request from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).

5. 5-year lung cancer relative survival for patients diagnosed 2000-2007 for Sweden was 14.7% compared with 8.8% for England. Source: Table 2a from De Angelis R, Sant M, Coleman MP et al. Cancer Survival in Europe 1999-2007 by Country and Age: Results of EUROCARE-5 – a Population-based Study. The Lancet Oncology, 2013; doi:10.1016/S1470-2045(13)70546-1.

Public Health England became responsible for delivering public health campaigns, which were previously within the Department of Health's remit, on 1 April 2013. Public Health England is a new executive agency of the Department of Health, which took up its full responsibilities on 1 April 2013. PHE will work with national and local government, industry and the NHS to protect and improve the nation's health and support healthier choices and will be addressing inequalities by focusing on removing barriers to good health. To find out more visit our website www.gov.uk/phe, follow us on Twitter @PHE_uk.

The Be Clear on Cancer campaign is part of the National Awareness and Early Diagnosis Initiative, run in partnership with Cancer Research UK, to improve England’s cancer survival rates.

Cancer Research UK has been commissioned by the Department of Health and Public Health England to provide support for the Be Clear on Cancer programme. This includes the analysis of all the campaigns which ran up until the end of March 2013.

The Government’s priorities for cancer as set out in Improving Outcomes: A Strategy for Cancer (January 2011) includes the ambition to save an additional 5,000 lives per year by 2014/15.