CancerClinicians working in the front-line of UK lung cancer services have published an open letter to the Secretary of State for Health, the Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP, demanding clarity on the future of the Be Clear on Cancer lung cancer awareness campaign. 

Despite a nationwide Department of Health funded campaign in 2012 - which resulted in raised public awareness of persistent cough as a key lung cancer symptom, more patients being urgently referred by their GPs, and an increase in the number lung cancers diagnosed - the Government has neglected to announce a follow-up.

“We are disappointed that the Department of Health does not appear to be building on the success of its own nationwide lung cancer awareness initiative, and that the campaign seems to have been shelved,” says Mr Richard Steyn, Chair of the UK Lung Cancer Coalition (UKLCC) and Consultant Thoracic Surgeon and Associate Medical Director, Surgery, at the Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust.

Despite improvements in services in recent years, wide variations in lung cancer treatment and care continue to persist across the UK and treatment and survival rates lag behind other comparable countries in Europe. Patients in the UK are diagnosed with more advanced disease than many other countries with around 40% first reaching specialist care via an emergency admission to hospital - resulting in poorer outcomes.

Earlier in 2015, the UKLCC provided recommendations for the Independent Cancer Taskforce’s just-published Five Year Cancer Strategy. It stated that improving awareness of the signs and symptoms of lung cancer, by maintaining funding for national awareness programmes, was vital to ensuring early diagnosis and treatment.

“We are therefore calling on the new Government to re-instigate the campaign immediately - in order to encourage early diagnosis and save British lives,” added Mr Steyn. 

In the letter, the group said that the campaign, under the Be Clear on Cancer brand, resulted in the following positive outcomes:

  • Increase in public awareness of persistent cough as a lung cancer symptom (54% precampaign to 65% post campaign)
  • GP presentations for patients aged 50+with a cough increased by 63% during the 8 week campaign compared to the same weeks in 2011 – equivalent to three additional visits per practice per week
  • The number of urgent GP referrals for lung cancer increased by 32% during the campaign period
  • GP-referred chest x-rays (CXRs) increased by 19% in May-July 2012 compared with April 2012 – and GP-referred CT scans increase by 16% over the same period
  • 9% increase in lung cancers diagnosed in the campaign period – most notably a 3% increase in the proportion of non-small cell lung cancer cases diagnosed at stage I 
  • 2% increase in surgical resections during the campaign. 

Lung cancer is the UK’s biggest cancer killer. There are over 35,000 deaths every year, which amounts to a greater death toll than breast cancer, prostate cancer, bladder cancer, stomach cancer and leukaemia combined. It is reported that four people die from lung cancer in the UK every hour. Despite improvements in services in recent years, wide variations in lung cancer treatment and care.   

To access a full copy of the open letter, visit: www.uklcc.org.uk