NHS launches awareness drive as ‘giant lung roadshow’ targets England’s cancer hotspots

The NHS will be touring England’s lung cancer hotspots with giant inflatable lungs and specialist teams of volunteers, in a bid to catch more cancers early and giving the best chance of successful treatment.

Thousands of people are expected to see the 12 foot-high lungs in communities across the country – including in supermarkets, shopping centres and local high streets – with the public urged to get checked straight away if they have signs and symptoms.

The inflatable organs are large enough for visitors to step inside, allowing them to 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.

In a new survey, less than two thirds (57%) of the public recognised a cough for more than three weeks or as a possible symptom of lung cancer and almost a quarter of respondents (24%) said they would do nothing or wait if they had this symptom.  Only half (55%) of those surveyed said they would contact their GP if they had a cough for three weeks or more, despite this being a key symptom of lung cancer.

The rollout of the campaign comes at a time when NHS teams are treating people for lung cancer at pre pandemic levels.

The number of people coming forward for lung checks is also now back at pre-pandemic levels, with over 10,000 referrals over the same two month period, having been the slowest of all cancer types to recover.

The “Let’s Talk Lung Cancer Roadshow”, in collaboration with Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, will kick off in the North West next week, before travelling around the country throughout October, as part of the NHS Help Us, Help You campaign.

There are 26 locations on the roadshow, including Blackpool, Sunderland, Bradford, and Dudley, with the tour ending in London. NHS data shows these areas have significantly higher rates of lung cancer, with the roadshow aiming to start conversations about the illness and its symptoms – such as having a cough for three weeks or more.

NHS National Cancer Director, Dame Cally Palmer, said: “A life-saving diagnosis can begin with a simple conversation, and the NHS is doing everything it can to bring lung cancer to the forefront of people’s minds.

“Our targeted campaigns have been extremely successful in the past, catching hundreds of cancers early in communities which traditionally are less likely to come forward for checks. This novel scheme will no doubt raise eyebrows, but it will also raise awareness of early cancer detection, ultimately meaning better chance of successful treatment for those coming forward.

“So if you have had a persistent cough for three weeks or more, feel aches or pains when breathing or coughing, or show any of the other symptoms of lung cancer, help us help you and please come forward for care.”

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.

NHS staff are already rolling out lung trucks across the country so that people who live in highest risk areas can get quickly checked in their community. 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 Help Us, Help You advertising campaign is currently running across TV, radio and social media to widen the reach of the events.

NHS National Clinical Director for Cancer, Professor Peter Johnson, said: “Nearly 27,000 people die from lung cancer every year, but if we catch it early we can often cure it.

“So it is extremely important we find ways to help people to talk about their health and especially about their lungs, so we can give them the best possible treatment”.

Minister for Health Will Quince said: “Lung cancer kills nearly 27,000 people each year in England, and we must do more to fight this disease. Raising awareness of the main symptoms is crucial, and this new NHS and Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation campaign will encourage people to open up about their health.

“Referrals and treatment for lung cancer are back to pre-pandemic levels, and we continue to make progress on our commitment to have 75% of patients who have been urgently referred for suspected cancer either diagnosed or have cancer ruled out within 28 days”.

Paula Chadwick, chief executive of Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation added: “Lung cancer is a disease that no one wants to talk about, but it is vital that we do because these conversations can save lives.

“Being able to recognise the many different symptoms of lung cancer and taking immediate action can help people get diagnosed earlier when lung cancer is easier to treat”.

GP and TV Doctor Dr Chris George is supporting the campaign after his own mother was diagnosed with the condition. He said:

“The Let’s Talk Lung Cancer Roadshow is aiming to spark positive and reassuring conversations about lung cancer within communities. In particular, speaking as a GP, I cannot stress enough how important it is to contact your GP practice if you are experiencing a persistent cough for three weeks or more.

“Whilst it’s probably nothing serious, a cough for three weeks or more could be a sign of lung cancer and finding cancer earlier makes it more treatable. Your NHS is here and we want to see you”.

An infrequent visitor to his GP, Ric Myers, 69, from Thorner, West Yorkshire, sought advice in 2016 when he developed what he had initially believed to be a persistent cough and chest infection.

His doctor sent him for an x-ray immediately and, after a few weeks of monitoring and one further x-ray, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He had surgery to remove a tumour that was the size of a cherry tomato from his lung and, after some complications with his recovery, he received clear scans in January, June and December 2017 – when he was declared cancer free.

Ric said: “I’d always had what I called a smoker’s cough, but this time, something in me told me I needed to get it checked out, I noticed that it was different this time. The doctor told me there was something there, possibly cancer, and the impact of that word really is what people say it is. You automatically assume the worst”.

After a follow-up scan in 2018, Ric was told that the cancer had re-appeared and he has received immunotherapy treatment at the Macmillan Robert Ogden Centre. The cancer is now static and under control and being regularly monitored.

He said: “Now I feel really great. Unfortunately, many people don’t find out they have lung cancer until much further down the track than I did. I consider myself very lucky to have received an early diagnosis. I’m so glad I sought advice when I did”.

The main symptoms of lung cancer include:

  • a cough that doesn’t go away after three weeks
  • chest infections that keep coming back
  • coughing up blood
  • an ache or pain when breathing or coughing
  • persistent breathlessness
  • persistent tiredness or lack of energy, and/or
  • loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss.