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Be Clear on Cancer shelving defies progress

Prof. Stephen Spiro calls on the government to reinstate the lung cancer awareness campaign.

Be-Clear-on-Cancer-lung-cancerEvery death from cancer is a tragedy.

This is why the Department of Health’s decision to shelve its Be Clear on Cancer lung cancer awareness campaign is so disappointing to me and many other medical professionals.

Lung cancer is the UK’s biggest cancer killer, with more than 35,000 lung cancer deaths each year. The UK‘s lung cancer survival rates lag behind other Western countries, such as the US and many across Europe.

A major reason for this is the fact people too often get a diagnosis when it is too late to cure the cancer.

For example, around 40% of lung cancer patients in the UK are first diagnosed when a health emergency puts them in hospital – ideally, those people probably would have visited the doctor long before their symptoms were so bad they had to go to A&E.

Diagnosing lung cancer earlier requires people to be aware about its symptoms and know that they need to seek medical advice sooner rather than later.

A very effective campaign

The Be Clear on Cancer campaign has been shown to have been effective in achieving this. Public awareness that a persistent cough is a lung cancer symptom increased 20% when the campaign was first run in 2012. There was an increase of nearly two thirds in the number people aged 50 and over (the age group most likely to develop cancer) visiting their GP about a cough.

The campaign also saw an increase in the number of patients sent for chest X-rays by their GP, the number of people eventually diagnosed with lung cancer, and the number of people given potentially life-saving operations.

Shelving this programme as it starts to make a real difference is a defiance of progress in this terrible disease.

That's why I have joined other doctors in sending a letter to the secretary of state for health, calling on the government to re-instigate the campaign immediately.

If we want our survival rates to improve and catch up to those in Europe and the US running such campaigns is exactly the sort of thing we need to be doing. Continuing to raise awareness and encourage early diagnosis could literally be the difference between life and death for many people.

You can read our lung cancer information to learn about its symptoms and how we can support you.

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21 July 2015