As many as 1.7 million people in the UK could be living with undiagnosed lung cancer, lung disease or heart disease, according to Public Health England (PHE).
The figures were released as part of PHE’s nationwide ‘Be Clear on Cancer’ campaign. The aim is to raise awareness of the symptoms of lung cancer, other lung diseases, and heart disease.
There could be around 80,000 undiagnosed cases of lung cancer, according to the figures.
Dr Jodie Moffat, Cancer Research UK’s head of early diagnosis, said: “While we’ve seen improvements in lung cancer survival, international comparisons show that we’re still falling short.
“We need to change that picture, and campaigns such as this one helps us to do that, by alerting people what to look out for and encouraging them to see their GP.
“The symptoms of lung cancer can be similar to the symptoms of other diseases, and sometimes they can be easy to dismiss or get used to, but as this campaign shows, persistent coughs or breathlessness need to be checked out by a doctor and if it is something serious, finding it early can make a real difference.”
For example, retired nurse Marion Brown, 63, from Gateshead was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2010. She’d started to become breathless but had no other symptoms. She thought it was just asthma, but her daughter urged her to get it checked out.
“Being breathless was the only symptom I had. I didn’t lose weight, I didn’t have a cough and I didn’t feel ill. Yet by the time I was diagnosed, the cancer was already Stage 2b,” she said.
“I was extremely lucky that it was caught in time for the treatment to work and I’m still here, more than six years later.”
Lung cancer accounts for around 28,400 deaths each year.
Professor Kevin Fenton, PHE National Director for Health and Wellbeing describes the figure as “deeply concerning”.
He added: “If diagnosed early, these diseases can be managed and treated successfully. This campaign will help people recognise the symptoms and encourage them to seek help, potentially saving lives from what are three of the biggest causes of death in England.”
Professor Chris Harrison, National Clinical Director for Cancer for NHS England added: “People don’t always realise the significance and potential severity of their symptoms and may dismiss them as an inevitable part of ageing or their lifestyle, which is why this campaign is so important.”
Signs of lung cancer or lung disease to watch out include a persistent cough or getting out of breath doing everyday tasks like mowing the lawn or vacuuming.
The campaign, which is now live and runs until October 16, urges anyone with similar symptoms to contact their GP.