Press release

Be Clear on Cancer respiratory symptoms campaign launches

First national Be Clear on Cancer campaign to raise awareness of symptoms of lung cancer, lung disease and heart disease begins.

Around 1.7 million people could be living with undiagnosed lung cancer, lung disease or heart disease; all leading causes of death in England.

Public Health England (PHE) today (14 July 2016) launched a new nationwide ‘Be Clear on Cancer’ campaign with the aim of raising awareness of the symptoms of lung cancer, other lung disease, and heart disease; all leading causes of death in England.

It is estimated that there are around:

  • 80,000 undiagnosed cases of lung cancer
  • 1 million cases of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a common form of lung disease that includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis)
  • 600,000 undiagnosed cases of coronary heart disease.

These diseases are all leading causes of death in England. Lung cancer is the biggest cancer killer, accounting for around 28,400 deaths each year, while COPD is the cause of a further 24,000 deaths. Coronary heart disease (the main type of heart disease) is the single biggest cause of death, accounting for over 56,000 deaths in England each year. Earlier diagnosis of these diseases has the potential to save lives and improve the quality of life of those living with conditions such as COPD.

A sign of lung cancer or other lung diseases could be:

  • a persistent cough (lasting more than 3 weeks)
  • getting out of breath while doing everyday tasks such as vacuuming

Breathlessness could also be a sign of heart disease as well. The campaign encourages anyone experiencing these symptoms to see their GP. Finding these conditions early makes them more treatable.

The campaign is aimed at men and women aged 50 and over, as older people are most at risk of lung cancer, COPD and heart disease. It will build on the success of the previous Be Clear on Cancer lung cancer campaigns and a regional breathlessness pilot (which focused on lung and heart disease), making this the first national campaign of its kind to raise awareness of these conditions jointly.

Around 36,500 people in England are diagnosed with lung cancer each year. Currently, there are also approximately 1 million people who have been diagnosed with COPD and around 1.8 million who have been diagnosed with coronary heart disease.

Professor Kevin Fenton, PHE National Director for Health and Wellbeing said:

The estimated number of people with undiagnosed lung cancer, lung disease or heart disease, is deeply concerning. 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 3 of the biggest causes of death in England.

Professor Chris Harrison, the National Clinical Director for Cancer for NHS England commented:

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. Evidence shows that Be Clear on Cancer campaigns really do make a difference. Early diagnosis of cancer is absolutely critical to improving survival and is a main focus for the NHS.

Jane Ellison, Minister for Public Health said:

It’s crucial that people are aware of the signs and symptoms of these diseases. Sadly, diagnosis often comes too late, which can have a devastating impact on those living with any of these conditions, as well as those close to them. The more people we can encourage to get their symptoms checked, the more likely they are to be diagnosed earlier and treated successfully.

Media Medic, Dr Hilary Jones added:

People may put off visiting their GP for a number of reasons. Some may not realise a symptom like a persistent cough or getting out of breath doing things that you used to be able to do could be a sign of something serious, or they may be fearful of what they will find out, or even worry about wasting their GP’s time. These symptoms may well be nothing to worry about, but if it is something serious then the sooner it’s diagnosed, the better the chances of treating it effectively. Anyone who has either of these symptoms should visit their GP. Don’t worry about wasting our time, we want to see you.

The nationwide Be Clear on Cancer campaign will begin on Thursday 14 July and run until 16 October. For further information about the signs and symptoms of lung cancer, lung disease and heart disease, search ‘Be Clear on Cancer’.


  1. Public Health England exists to protect and improve the nation’s health and wellbeing, and reduce health inequalities. It does this through world-class science, knowledge and intelligence, advocacy, partnerships and the delivery of specialist public health services. PHE is an operationally autonomous executive agency of the Department of Health. Follow us on Twitter: @PHE_uk and Facebook:
  2. Be Clear on Cancer campaigns are run by Public Health England in partnership with the Department of Health and NHS England.
  3. Early diagnosis of cancer is a major priority for this government in helping us to improve cancer survival. Be Clear on Cancer campaigns, which aim to raise public awareness of the symptoms of cancer and encourage earlier presentation, are included in the report of the independent Cancer Taskforce Achieving world-class cancer outcomes: a strategy for England 2015 to 2020. The campaigns also form an integral part of the PHE marketing strategy for 2014 to 2017, which was published in July 2014.
  4. The 1.7 million figure is the total number of estimated cases of undiagnosed lung cancer, COPD and heart disease. As these are distinct disease areas, these estimates are calculated using different models, each based on different factors.
  5. Celebrity supporters of this campaign include:
    • Gloria Hunniford (TV presenter); Gloria lost her first husband to an undiagnosed heart condition
    • Tricia Penrose (actress); Tricia’s mother is living with lung cancer
    • Gaby Roslin (TV presenter and actress); Gaby’s mother died of lung cancer
    • Jeremy Sheffield (actor); Jeremy’s father had a form of heart disease
    • Nikesh Shukla (writer); Nikesh’s mother died of lung cancer
  6. Download pictures, quotes and video footage of celebrity ambassadors from dropbox.
  7. Interview opportunities with Professor Kevin Fenton, PHE National Director for Health and Wellbeing, Professor Yvonne Doyle, Regional Director, London, for PHE or Chris Harrison, National Clinical Director for Cancer, are available upon request. Interviews also available with HCPs featuring in the advertising and case studies.
  8. The campaign includes national TV, radio, digital and out of home advertising, together with face to face events in venues such as shopping centres.
  9. Results to date indicate that Be Clear on Cancer is changing levels of public awareness. There are also early indications that clinical outcomes are improving. These are some of the statistically significant findings following the first national lung cancer campaign in 2012, when compared with the same period in the previous year:
    • around 700 more people were diagnosed with lung cancer
    • around 400 more people had their cancer diagnosed at an early stage
    • around 300 additional patients had surgery as a first treatment of diagnosed lung cancer, giving them the best chance of prolonged survival
  10. Findings from research on the breathlessness campaign showed that there were significant increases in spontaneous knowledge of what breathlessness could be a sign of. Further details are given in a PHE, DH and NHS England letter. It was found that knowledge of:
    • lung disease was up from 50% pre-campaign to 60% post-campaign
    • heart disease was up from 42% pre-campaign to 52% post campaign
  11. NHS Wales will be running a campaign to raise awareness of a persistent cough as a symptom of lung cancer from 11 July to 11 August 2016, using Be Clear on Cancer materials. The campaign will encourage people with the relevant symptoms to go to their GP, with the aim of diagnosing more cases of lung cancer at an earlier stage. It will be the first time Be Clear on Cancer activity has run in Wales. Further information is available at
  12. The British Lung Foundation (BLF) is running its ‘Listen to Your Lungs’ campaign throughout 2016 and 2017. This complements PHE’s campaign, and aims to increase awareness that daily, long-term breathlessness is not normal and can be a symptom of lung disease. The British Lung Foundation’s breath test invites the public to take a quick online test that asks questions based around the Medical Research Council breathlessness scale. The scale assesses how out of breath people get when doing various activities. The test also asks about other factors such as exercise levels, weight, smoking, age and whether people are worried about getting out of breath.
  13. The earlier lung cancer is diagnosed, the greater the chances of survival: 83% of those diagnosed at stage 1 (the earliest stage) will live for at least a year, dropping to only 17% amongst those diagnosed at stage 4 (the latest stage).
  14. Symptoms:
    • a cough that has lasted 3 weeks or more could be a sign of lung disease, including cancer
    • getting out of breath doing things you used to be able to do could be a sign of lung or heart disease, or even cancer
  15. Other symptoms of heart disease or lung disease (including lung cancer) include:
    • a cough that has got worse or changes
    • frequent chest infections
    • coughing up blood
    • chest pain or shoulder pain
    • wheezing
    • feeling more tired than usual for some time
    • losing weight for no obvious reason
  16. An additional facts and statistics document is available on request.
  17. Additional spokespeople quotes:
    • Dr Mike Knapton, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said:

In my experience as a GP, many people experiencing breathlessness often brush it off as a symptom of being unfit, without knowing it could be a sign of something more serious. Coronary heart disease (the main cause of a heart attack) along with heart failure and heart rhythm disorders can all make someone feel out of breath and early diagnosis of these conditions is essential. Research breakthroughs now mean that many causes of breathlessness can be effectively treated and we would advise anyone experiencing symptoms to speak to their GP.

  • Steven Wibberley, Chief Operating Officer at the British Lung Foundation said:

Our recent report, Battle for Breath, highlighted the need to raise awareness among the millions who may be unaware they have lung disease. Early diagnosis and treatment is essential to ensuring limited damage to lungs and better health outcomes. We are supporting Public Health England’s campaign to raise awareness that getting out of breath doing the things you used to be able to do could be a sign of something more serious like lung disease. Feeling breathless doing everyday tasks is not a normal part of life and should be investigated by a doctor. We are asking people to ‘Listen to your lungs’ and try our online breath test and take any actions needed to improve health and overall quality of life.

  • Paula Chadwick, Chief Executive of the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation said:

It is really encouraging to see the long-standing Be Clear on Cancer campaign continuing to help raise vital awareness of the crucial symptoms to look out for that could be a sign of lung cancer. So many people may otherwise simply ‘shrug off’ something like a persistent cough, yet to do so can have potentially devastating consequences. Anyone with a cough for 3 weeks or more should go and see their GP to get it checked. You have nothing to lose by making the appointment and it could ultimately save your life.

Public Health England press office