Press release

'Don't ignore a persistent cough', warns lung cancer campaign

Figures reveal the stark reality of early diagnosis on survival rates

Be clear on cancer
Lung cancer campaign

Almost 24,000 people a year in England receive a lung cancer diagnosis when the disease is at a late stage * – only around 15% of cases are diagnosed at the earliest stage, when treatment is most likely to be successful.

The next phase of the NHS Be Clear on Cancer campaign launches today to drive awareness of the signs and symptoms of lung cancer and to encourage people with a persistent cough to see their GP early.

Lung cancer is currently England’s biggest cancer killer, causing around 28,000 deaths each year and with around 33,800 people diagnosed. Those diagnosed at the earliest stage are 5 times more likely to survive lung cancer for at least 5 years than those diagnosed at a late stage †.

One of the reasons behind England’s low early diagnosis rate is the public’s lack of awareness about the disease and its symptoms. New data shows‡:

  • almost three-quarters (73%) of people are unaware that lung cancer is England’s biggest cancer killer
  • despite the fact that lung cancer is most common in people aged over 50, one in four people (26%) think that all age groups are equally at risk of lung cancer
  • 40% of people are unaware that a cough that has lasted 3 weeks or more is a potential symptom of lung cancer

The Be Clear on Cancer campaign, which first ran in summer 2012, aims to make people aware of the symptoms of lung cancer and encourage them to visit their GP if they have had a cough for 3 weeks or more.

Professor Kevin Fenton, Director of Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England, said:

These figures show that more needs to be done to raise awareness of the signs of lung cancer and ultimately save more lives.

The results from the previous campaign are really encouraging but awareness levels of a persistent cough as a symptom of lung cancer are still low. Only by increasing awareness of potential symptoms, and encouraging people to visit their doctor sooner rather than later, will we see the number of early diagnoses, and people surviving the disease, start to rise.

The Be Clear on Cancer lung cancer campaign is aimed at men and women over the age of 50, as they are most at risk. Worryingly, almost a fifth (19%) of this group admits they have not visited their doctor in the past when they have had a persistent cough. The majority thought their cough would clear up on its own.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said:

More people die from lung cancer than any other cancer in England, but many people don’t know the signs and symptoms that could save their lives. The message from this campaign is clear - if you have a persistent cough, go and see your doctor. The earlier lung cancer is diagnosed, the more likely that treatment will be successful.

I am committed to improving cancer survival rates and have set out an ambition to save an extra 5,000 lives every year by 2014 - getting people diagnosed early is one part of our drive to have the best cancer services in the world.

Sean Duffy, National Clinical Director for Cancer at NHS England, said:

Awareness campaigns like this are especially important in getting people with potential symptoms into doctors’ surgeries. During the regional pilot, trusts within the campaign area saw a 14% increase in lung cancer cases diagnosed compared with a year earlier, whereas there was only a 4.7% increase in trusts outside the pilot area *.

However, more needs to be done for our survival rates to be as good as the best in Europe. If they were, it is estimated that around 1,300 deaths could be avoided each year.

The Be Clear on Cancer campaign will see adverts - featuring real GPs - on TV, print and radio from today until mid-August. Face-to-face events will also take place in a number of shopping centres.

* National Lung Cancer Audit. Note: late stage of diagnosis refers to those diagnosed at stages 3 and 4 for NSCLC (non-small cell lung cancers) or extensive disease for SCLC (small cell lung cancers). Around 33,800 patients are diagnosed with lung cancer every year in England.

† 35% of people diagnosed at the earliest stage (TNM stage 1) survive at least 5 years compared to under 7% for those diagnosed at a late stage (TNM stage 3 & 4). Source: The National Cancer Registration Service (NCRS), Eastern Office; patients diagnosed with lung cancer during 2003-2006 in the former Anglia Cancer Network.

‡ Online omnibus survey conducted with representative sample of 1045 adults aged 16+ in England between 7 and 10 June 2013 by TNS England BMRB.

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Notes to editors

  • Public Health England is a new executive agency of the Department of Health, which took up its full responsibilities on 1 April 2013. PHE will work with national and local government, industry and the NHS to protect and improve the nation’s health and support healthier choices and will be addressing inequalities by focusing on removing barriers to good health. To find out more visit our website www.gov.uk/phe, follow us on Twitter @PHE_uk.

  • The Be Clear on Cancer lung cancer campaign first ran nationally in England last summer (May to June 2012). Prior to this, it was piloted in the East and West Midlands for five weeks in October to November 2011.

  • The Be Clear on Cancer campaign is part of the National Awareness and Early Diagnosis Initiative, run in partnership with Cancer Research UK, to improve England’s cancer survival rates.

  • The Government’s priorities for cancer as set out in Improving Outcomes: A Strategy for Cancer (January 2011) includes the ambition to save an additional 5,000 lives per year by 2014-2015.

  • Dr Jesme Fox, medical director of Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, said:

As a national lung cancer charity, we welcome this campaign and are very supportive of it. Knowing the symptoms of lung cancer might just save your life, or the life of someone you love. If you have new or worsening symptoms, such as a persistent cough, it is really important to get checked out by your GP. The chances are, you won’t have lung cancer. But, if you do, it is important to be diagnosed as early as possible to give yourself the best chance of being cured.

  • Sarah Woolnough, Cancer Research UK’s executive director of policy, said:

Detecting lung cancer early and ensuring people get the best possible treatment is vital for better survival. Lung cancer remains our biggest killer - responsible for around a quarter of all cancer deaths - and the UK’s survival rates lag behind comparable countries. Campaigns to increase awareness of the disease and its symptoms, and to reduce the fear of getting signs checked out are very welcome. We can and must do more to improve our lung cancer survival rates, and alongside campaigns, Cancer Research UK is investing in research initiatives to help our understanding of the disease and to develop new and kinder treatments to beat it.

  • Lung cancer symptoms - the main symptom is a persistent cough for three weeks or more. Other symptoms include:

    • a cough that has got worse or changes
    • repeated chest infections
    • coughing up blood
    • breathlessness
    • feeling more tired than usual for some time
    • losing weight for no obvious reason
    • an ache or pain in your chest or shoulder that has lasted some time

Regional press releases

Published 2 July 2013
Last updated 2 July 2013 + full page history
  1. Added London press release as an attachment.
  2. First published.