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Thousands more people get urgent lung cancer tests thanks to cough campaign

by British Journal of Cancer | News

3 December 2014

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Following a campaign urging people with a persistent cough to visit their doctor, there has been a surge of lung cancers diagnosed at an early enough stage for the patients to receive surgery which could be curative.

More than 3,000* extra referrals were made by GPs according to an analysis of the campaign results led by Cancer Research UK published in the British Journal of Cancer today.

This is an increase of more than 30 per cent in referrals during the months surrounding the campaign, May to July 2012, compared with the same three month period the year before.

Most importantly, in the months surrounding the powerful Be Clear on Cancer campaign around 700 extra patients were diagnosed with lung cancer – many at an early stage – and nearly 300 more patients received surgery**.

And a survey conducted after the campaign involving more than 1,100 people showed that, when prompted, 33 per cent were aware that a cough lasting more than three weeks was a definite warning sign of lung cancer compared with only 18 per cent before the campaign***.

Experts believe that this kind of awareness campaign can ​lead to earlier diagnosis which in turn gives patients a better chance of successful surgery, follow up treatment and prolonged survival.

An analysis of the figures showed that the referrals resulted from an average of six extra patient appointments for a cough per week per GP practice****.

The Public Health England campaign which is supported by Cancer Research UK, NHS England and the Department of Health, ran throughout England from May-June 2012. People were urged to go to the GP if they had a cough lasting longer than three weeks.

Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive said: “This proves just how successful a simple campaign alerting people to be vigilant about persistent coughing can be. The sooner people recognise changes in their bodies and go to their GP for a check-up, the better their chances if it does turn out to be cancer.

“Earlier diagnosis combined with pioneering research means we can make real progress in treating lung cancer – a devastating disease that has killed millions of people.”

Dr Mick Peake, lung cancer expert and consultant in respiratory medicine at the University of Hospitals of Leicester and lead author of the paper, said: “I can honestly say that this campaign has achieved more than I ever expected. We were surprised to see so many more patients diagnosed with lung cancer at an early stage of their disease and then to see that being translated into a significant increase in the number of patients going on to have potentially curative surgery is hugely encouraging. If maintained, this effect could really result in a fall in the number of patients who die from lung cancer in the longer term.”

Sean Duffy, national clinical Director for Cancer at NHS England, said: “Helping people to understand what symptoms to worry about, and encouraging them to step forward early, is key to making sure people get the treatment they need at the earliest possible stage. The impact of this campaign on referrals for lung cancer patients is hugely encouraging and reflects what we’re seeing across the board – the number of people being referred and treated for cancer is at an all-time high, and as a result the NHS is helping more people than ever survive.”

Professor Kevin Fenton, Director of Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England, said: “Lung cancer is England’s biggest cancer killer, causing around 28,100 deaths each year. Early diagnosis and treatment is crucial, as patients diagnosed at an early stage are five times more likely to survive lung cancer for at least five years than those diagnosed at a later stage.

“Statistics like this demonstrate why initiatives that seek to increase symptom awareness levels – like our Be Clear on Cancer Lung Cancer Campaign – are incredibly significant in the battle against this form of cancer.”


For media enquiries contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 3469 8300 or, out of hours, on 07050 264059.

Ironmonger, L et al. An evaluation of the impact of large scale interventions to raise public awareness of a lung cancer symptom. British Journal of Cancer (2014) DOI: 10.1038/bjc.2014.596