NHS launches awareness campaign in North East and Yorkshire for England’s most deadly cancer

The NHS in North East and Yorkshire is encouraging people with symptoms, such as a long-standing persistent cough, to contact their GP practice for potentially lifesaving checks in its latest campaign to catch lung cancer earlier when it is easier to treat.

The launch of the latest Help Us Help You campaign comes after figures suggest that people at risk of lung cancer may not be coming forward for care despite this type being the biggest cause of cancer deaths in England. While most other cancer referrals quickly returned to pre-pandemic levels after the first wave of Covid-19, lung cancer referrals only returned to pre-pandemic levels in May.

Cancer health chiefs are urging the public to contact their GP team if they have had a persistent cough for longer than three weeks or notice other symptoms like coughing up blood or persistent breathlessness. Lung cancer is one of the most serious type of cancers and last year was the fifth biggest cause of death in England accounting for 26,410 deaths.

The latest campaign will target the groups of people most at risk including over-60s, and people who are often more reluctant to visit their GP practice, which is critical to getting an early diagnosis.

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.”

The NHS Help Us, Help You campaign will run across TV, video-on-demand services, radio and social media over the next few months to spread awareness of lung cancer symptoms.

Ric Myers, 69, from West Yorkshire sought advice from his GP in 2016 when he developed a persistent cough and chest infection. His doctor sent him for an x-ray 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 the size of a cherry tomato from his lung and, after receiving clear scans, he was declared cancer free in December 2017.

Ric (pictured) said: “I’d always had what I called a smoker’s cough, but this time something told me I needed to get it checked out – I noticed 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 the cancer had re-appeared and he received immunotherapy treatment at the Macmillan Robert Ogden Centre in Harrogate. The cancer is now static, under control and being regularly monitored.

Ric, who is a Cancer Champion for West Yorkshire and Harrogate, added: “I’m so glad I sought advice when I did. I’m six years down the track. I am living proof that if you catch it early enough you can survive lung cancer much better. I have been lucky and I want other people to have the same luck as me by getting an early diagnosis.”

The NHS is also working with a leading lung cancer charity – the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation to run local awareness raising campaigns, as well as working with the foundation to rapidly expand the Targeted Lung Health Checks programme which screens people at risk of developing lung cancer.

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: “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. If you have any of the key 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.”

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.”