Lung Cancer Awareness Month takes place every November in the UK, supported by Macmillan Cancer Support and the Roy Castle Foundation amongst other cancer charities. Although around 43,500 people are diagnosed each year with lung cancer and it is the second most common cancer in the UK, it has relatively poor survival prospects compared with other common cancers such as breast and prostate cancer.
The aim of the awareness campaign is to encourage people displaying the common symptoms of lung cancer, such as a persistent cough, breathlessness or unexplained weight-loss, to visit their GP. It is hoped that early detection of the disease can be increased by raising awareness as, the earlier the cancer is caught, the greater the prospects of survival.
Lung cancer mostly affects smokers or ex-smokers. About nine out of ten people who get lung cancer smoke or were smokers in the past. Only 10–15% of people who get lung cancer have never smoked. Like many cancers, lung cancer affects older people more. Eight out of ten of people with lung cancer are over 60 and it is rare in people under 40.
One of the main symptoms of lung cancer is a cough that lasts for three weeks or more. Other symptoms include breathlessness, a chest infection that will not get better, a hoarse voice, difficulty swallowing and coughing up blood. Further details about the symptoms to look out for can be found on the Macmillan website.
Lucie Prothero, senior associate at Penningtons Manches who specialises in delayed diagnoses of cancer cases, said: “We regularly see the terrible outcome of delayed diagnosis of lung cancers. Last year Macmillan reported that half of people with lung cancer die within six months of diagnosis. While breast cancer and prostate cancer have a five-year survival rate of more than 80%, lung cancer's is only around 10%. It has been suggested that one of the reasons at the root of this poor statistical outcome is delayed diagnosis.
“We receive many enquiries from cancer sufferers and their families who are concerned that the opportunity for an earlier diagnosis was missed. Often in circumstances where there is a claim for negligence, it has involved patients presenting to clinicians with consistent patterns of symptoms, where appropriate investigations have not been made or have been inappropriately reported or followed-up.
“But it is also true that, in many cases, the patient’s symptoms may have been present for several months before concerns have been raised. Late presentation by the patient plays an important role in the survival statistics and awareness campaigns which educate and encourage patients to seek medical attention when symptoms persist are absolutely vital.”