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Doctors demand return of lung cancer awareness campaign

Published 21/07/2015

Lung cancer is the UK's biggest cancer killer
Lung cancer is the UK's biggest cancer killer

Doctors and nurses have written an open letter to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt asking why the Government has "chosen to ignore" the positive results of a nationwide lung cancer awareness campaign by not announcing a follow-up.

Clinicians are calling on the new Government to re-instigate the Be Clear on Cancer lung cancer awareness campaign immediately so that more lives can be saved.

Lung cancer is the UK's biggest cancer killer, with more than 35,000 people dying from it each year. It accounts for 6% of all deaths (including non-cancer deaths), with more than twice as many people dying from it as the next ranked cancer, bowel cancer.

Because lung cancer does not usually cause noticeable symptoms until it has spread through much of the lungs or into other parts of the body, the outlook is not as good as for many other types of cancer. Fewer than one in 10 people will live at least five years after being diagnosed.

The campaign, which was aimed at the over-50s and launched on a national scale in 2012, aimed to raise public awareness of persistent cough as a symptom of the disease and saw a 9% increase in lung cancers diagnosed during the campaign period.

It saw the amount of over-50s going to see their doctor with a cough go up by 63% during the eight-week period compared with the same time the previous year, and the number of urgent GP referrals for lung cancer rise by a third (32%).

The letter, from the UK Lung Cancer Coalition's (UKLCC) clinical advisory group, demands clarity on the future of the campaign.

"Despite improvements in services in recent years, wide variations in lung cancer treatment and care continue to persist across the UK and treatment and survival rates lag behind other comparable countries in Europe," the letter said.

"Patients in the UK are diagnosed with more advanced disease than many other countries, with around 40% first reaching specialist care via an emergency admission to hospital - resulting in poorer outcomes.

"We are therefore disappointed that the Department of Health does not appear to be intending to build on the success of its own nationwide lung cancer awareness initiative and we call on the new Government to re-instigate the campaign immediately - in order to encourage early diagnosis and save British lives."

It has been signed by 14 members of the UKLCC, whose members include leading lung cancer experts, senior NHS professionals, medical organisations, charities and healthcare companies.

Richard Steyn, UKLCC chairman and consultant thoracic surgeon at the Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust, said: "We are disappointed that the Department of Health does not appear to be building on the success of its own nationwide lung cancer awareness initiative, and that the campaign seems to have been shelved.

"We are therefore calling on the new Government to re-instigate the campaign immediately - in order to encourage early diagnosis and save British lives."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: "The campaign has not been shelved - all the Be Clear on Cancer campaigns are kept under review, and just last week we launched a campaign on breast cancer for women over 70.

"Lung cancer remains one of our biggest killers which is why we have invested more than £22 million in Be Clear on Cancer awareness campaigns, including three lung cancer campaigns since 2010.

"Anybody who is showing lung cancer symptoms, including a cough lasting three weeks or more, should visit their GP as soon as possible."

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