Awareness campaign encouraging people not to ignore the possible signs of lung cancer gets underway in the South East

A campaign to help raise awareness of lung cancer which is the most common cause of cancer death in the UK launches across the South East today, coinciding with World Lung Cancer Day.

The region’s medical director is encouraging people with symptoms such as a long-standing persistent cough, to visit their GP for potentially lifesaving checks.

Whilst it may not be lung cancer, it is easier to treat if caught early.

Vaughan Lewis, Medical Director for the NHS in the South East, said: “Lung cancer remains one of most common types of cancer and is the cause of one in five cancer deaths in the UK so it’s important to raise awareness of the symptoms so that people can seek help to ensure it is diagnosed as early as possible. Early diagnosis significantly improves the chance of long-term survival.”

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 lung cancer 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 2022.

Around 40,000 cases of lung cancer are diagnosed every year, with the NHS expanding its targeted lung health check programme to ensure it reaches out and screens those most at risk of the cancer.

In the South East, nearly 7,000 people living in Southampton have taken up the invite to have their lungs checked since the programme went live in the city in September 2020. From these checks, 109 lung cancer cases have been detected, with 74% of these at stage 1 providing early intervention, treatment and outcomes for patients.

Dr Lewis added: “Services such as the total lung health check are clearly beneficial in helping to detect cancers early which is good news. However, there is still some way to go.

“I encourage anyone who has had a persistent cough for longer than three weeks or other symptoms like coughing up blood or persistent breathlessness, to seek advice from their GP practice.

“The earlier a cancer is detected, the better the chances of survival.”

Thanks to national awareness campaigns and early diagnosis initiatives, one in every four GP referrals are now for suspected cancer –  with the NHS seeing record numbers of people getting checked for cancer over the last year with over 5.3 million people referred between June 2021 and May 2022, and over 670,000 since March 2020 starting treatment.

The latest campaign will target the groups of people most at risk including over 60s, as well as people from more working-class backgrounds who are often more reluctant to visit their GP 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 such as ITV Hub, radio, and social media over the next few months to spread awareness of lung cancer symptoms.

Earlier this year NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard announced a revolutionary drug, atezolizumab, for lung cancer patients thanks to an NHS England brokered deal which helps reduce the chance of lung cancer reappearing or death by 34%.

The NHS this year also secured access to durvalumab, which can help double how long somebody can survive an aggressive form of lung cancer, as well as, mobocertinib, which will help hundreds of patients tackle a rare form of lung cancer which can’t be removed by surgery.

The new lung cancer campaign is the latest drive by the NHS to deliver world-class cancer care and restore cancer services following the pandemic.

Last month (July 2022), the NHS announced a breakthrough treatment for people with respiratory cancer, which is set to benefit around 1,000 patients a year in England.

The NHS has also awarded £10 million to pioneering new cancer innovations to help improve cancer diagnosis across England.

The NHS Long Term Plan committed to increasing the proportion of cancers caught early, when they are easier to treat, from half to three in four.