Shining a light on – Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation

Rachel Avery, Director of Marketing and Communications

2nd April 2019

Lung cancer: Seeing beyond the stereotype

Every year, over 46,000 people will be told they have lung cancer. Just over a third will then get to live for a year or more.

Late diagnosis plays a significant part in this; around three quarters are diagnosed in the late stages when curative-intent treatment is no longer possible.

So, we need to diagnose earlier. Simple. If only it was that easy.

Symptoms of lung cancer are vague at best, and therefore understandably dismissed as something far less sinister – particularly if the patient is not considered high risk. A persistent cough is a sign of a chest infection. Shoulder pain, perhaps you’ve overdone it at the gym or in the garden. Fatigue – well, who isn’t tired?!

Raising awareness of the signs and symptoms of lung cancer is one of Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation’s primary aims. Shockingly, 20% of people in the UK are unable to name a single symptom of the disease.

On average, the British population are only able to name two lung cancer symptoms. Yet there are many, many different signs – some obvious like a persistent cough or breathlessness, others less so like blood clotting or finger clubbing.

As the UK’s only charity solely focused on lung cancer, we are constantly looking for ways to engage with the public and healthcare professionals to improve awareness of lung cancer and get people diagnosed faster – from community engagement to our position as secretariat of the Lung Cancer Clinical Expert Group (CEG), as well as online and offline information and literature.

There is one particular hurdle lung cancer is somewhat unique in facing. The success of anti-smoking campaigns has led many to wrongly assume they are immune from lung cancer if they have never smoked. This dangerous misconception could mean potential symptoms are ignored or overlooked and precious time is wasted.

Whilst clearly a person’s risk of lung cancer is greater if they smoke or have smoked, non-smokers can still fall victim to this awful disease. It is vital everyone is aware of this.

If you have lungs, you can have lung cancer

This is a phrase we find ourselves saying a lot and we always try to represent patient diversity within awareness campaigns – from the 17-year-old student nurse, Kay, from our #HeadHigh campaign, to our 72-year-old long-standing advocate, Terry.

We are trying to create an environment where people feel they can talk about lung cancer as openly as other cancers – as this can also play a part in improving diagnosis and patient experience.

At the minute, we are faced with the fact that 25% of people in the UK admit to having less sympathy for people who have lung cancer than those who are diagnosed with a different type of cancer. We know patients and family members who have lied about their condition after having to answer that inevitable “Well, did you smoke?” question one too many times.

Lung cancer is the UK’s biggest cancer killer, killing more people than breast, prostate and pancreatic cancer combined. It is not an ‘accolade’ we want. We need more people to be diagnosed early, so they have the best chance of long-term survival. This can start with GPs listening to the patient’s story, recognising what is unusual or out of character for them and utilising the C the Signs tool to consider lung cancer as a possible cause if the symptoms are pointing to it.