The NHS is urging the public to come forward if they are experiencing lung cancer symptoms after an almost 30% drop in referrals compared to this time last year.
As a persistent cough is also a symptom of COVID, it is more important than ever to be aware of the warning signs of lung cancer.
Lung cancer is the third most common cancer in England with around 5,752 people in South East England being diagnosed each year. Finding lung cancer early, like other cancers, makes it more treatable.
However, research commissioned by the NHS found half of people in South East England do not know that a persistent cough for more than 3 weeks can be a lung cancer symptom. And three fifths of people in South East England would not make an appointment with their GP if they had a cough lasting 3 weeks or more and had tested negative for coronavirus.
The findings have been released as NHS England and Public Health England launch a major new drive encouraging people to get check by a GP if they have lung cancer symptoms. In a poignant short film cricketer Sir Andrew Strauss, whose wife Ruth died aged 46, stressed that anyone coughing for three weeks or more should get checked.
Michael Baker, Deputy Director of Healthcare at Public Health England South East, said:
“It’s too easy to ignore important signs that your body is trying to tell you but it’s so important with cancer that it is treated as early as possible. If you are in any doubt at all, please consult your GP. Don’t wait until it’s too late.”
Those whose cancer is caught at the earliest point, referred to as Stage 1, have a 57.7% chance of living for another 5 years, compared to 3.1% for those diagnosed at Stage 4.
The NHS Long Term Plan aims to increase the number of cancer patients diagnosed early, at Stage 1 or 2, from half to three quarters.
The health service has seen more people come forward for cancer checks since the first peak of the pandemic but lung cancer referrals are at 73% of the same point last year. The research found the main reasons people gave for not contacting their GP practice were being worried about burdening the NHS wanting to wait and see if the cough would go away by itself.