Government 'Cough Campaign' Leads To Diagnosis Of 700 More Lung Cancer Patients

A Government campaign urging people with a three-week-old cough to see the doctor has led to a dramatic surge in the detection of lung cancer, say researchers.

Not only were more cancer patients diagnosed, but many were spotted early, increasing the chances of successful treatment and survival.

The "Be Clear On Cancer" TV and press campaign was launched in 2011 by Public Health England (PHE) to raise awareness of a range of cancers.

Between May and June last year, people in England were advised to see their GP if they had a cough lasting longer than three weeks, one of the key symptoms of lung cancer.

As a result, around 700 more people were diagnosed with the disease than during the same months the previous year, a rise of 9.1%.

In addition some 400 patients had lung cancers picked up at an early stage, according to Cancer Research UK which supported the campaign.

There was also a significant decrease in the proportion of patients found to have late-stage cancers, and about 300 more diagnosed patients received surgery.

As a general rule, the earlier cancer is detected, the more likely it is to be successfully treated.

Dr Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: "It is great news that this campaign has raised awareness of lung cancer symptoms among those most at risk of the disease.

"By acting quickly if you notice a possible symptom, you can give yourself the best chance of survival.

"In many cases it won't be cancer, but it is better to be sure and, if it is cancer, to detect it earlier rather than later.

"Earlier diagnosis, combined with the pioneering research that brings better and kinder treatments to patients, means we are starting to make much needed headway against a type of cancer that has killed millions.

"This vital combination will help bring forward the day when no one dies prematurely from lung cancer."

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Sean Duffy, national clinical director for cancer at NHS England, said: "Until recently a lung cancer patient in Sweden was nearly 70% more likely to survive their disease for at least five years than if they lived in England.

"So I am therefore delighted that this new set of figures shows that the Be Clear On Cancer campaign has helped speed up our progress in lung cancer survival with hundreds of patients receiving potential life-saving surgery as a result of this campaign."

Professor Kevin Fenton, director of health and wellbeing at PHE, said: "To see such encouraging results from the first national Be Clear On Cancer lung campaign is very reassuring.

"It shows that we can make a difference when it comes to one of the biggest cancer killers.

"Public Health England is committed to helping prevent and diagnose cancers earlier. We are now looking to re-run the campaign in 2014 which we hope will improve survival for even more patients."

Other cancers targeted by the campaign include bowel, breast, bladder, kidney, oesophagus, stomach and ovarian.

Public Health England is an executive agency of the Department of Health set up to raise health awareness and support health initiatives.

Each year 41,500 new cases of lung cancer are diagnosed in the UK and around 35,000 people die from the disease.

It has one of the worst survival rates of any cancer, with only around 8% of those diagnosed living as long as long as five years.

Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, said: "Current lung cancer survival rates in the UK are sadly very low, and it is an area in which we lag considerably behind the rest of Europe and the US.

"Improving rates of early diagnosis is one of the most effective ways in which we can help address this problem, which is why these initial results from the Be Clear On Cancer campaign are so encouraging.

"Naturally, we won't know for sure until subsequent years whether this impact will be a lasting one, but these very positive early indications seem to confirm that such awareness campaigns can make real tangible differences to people's lives, and that similar campaigns should be looked at for other widespread and potentially deadly diseases, such as COPD.

"Coming in the same week that new figures revealed lung cancer surgery rates to be at a record high, the Be Clear On Cancer findings tentatively suggest that we might finally be turning a corner in tackling a disease that has been killing too many for too long.

"The worrying exception concerns investment in researching new cures and treatments, where lung cancer still lags well behind the likes of breast cancer, bowel cancer and leukaemia, despite killing more each year than all three put together."