Sir Andrew Strauss, the ex-England cricket captain who lost his wife to lung cancer, has backed an NHS and Public Health England campaign urging people to get checked if they test negative for Covid-19 but have a persistent cough.
Sir Andrew has joined television presenter Gaby Roslin, who lost her mother to lung cancer, and others whose lives have been changed by the disease, in a film warning not to leave it too late to get a check. Finding lung cancer early, like other cancers, makes it more treatable.
However, research commissioned by the NHS found over two fifths (43%) of people in the South West do not know that a persistent cough for more than three weeks can be a lung cancer symptom. And three fifths (59%) of people in the South West would not make an appointment with their GP if they had a cough lasting three 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 checked by a GP if they have lung cancer symptoms. In the poignant short film Sir Andrew, whose wife Ruth died aged 46, stressed that anyone coughing for three weeks or more should get checked.
Sir Andrew Strauss, Ex-England Cricket Captain and Founder of the Ruth Strauss Foundation, said: “This is a campaign very close to my heart after losing my wife, Ruth, to lung cancer in 2018. Lung cancer is a risk for everyone – Ruth had never smoked a cigarette in her life and was unbelievably fit and healthy. It’s so important that if you notice any loved ones showing symptoms that could be a sign of cancer that you encourage them to contact their GP practice.”
Lung cancer is the third most common cancer in England with around 3903 people in the South West being diagnosed each year.
Those whose cancer is caught at the earliest point, referred to as stage one, have a 57.7% chance of living for another five years, compared to 3.1% for those diagnosed at stage four.
Television, radio and podcast presenter, Gaby Roslin said: “I remember sitting there on the phone to the doctor and she said ‘I’m afraid it is lung cancer’. Looking back on it my mum never told us how she was feeling, she was always making sure that we were all OK and making sure that my Dad was ok. If you catch it early it can make the biggest difference.”
The NHS Long Term Plan aims to increase the number of cancer patients diagnosed early, at stage one or two, 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 only 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 (43%) and wanting to wait and see if the cough would go away by itself (21%)
72% (almost three-quarters) said they would encourage their loved ones to make an appointment with their GP if they kept coughing but knew they did not have Covid-19. The Help Us Help You campaign includes a series of TV adverts encouraging anyone with an ongoing cough to not delay contacting their GP.
Professor Peter Johnson, National Clinical Director for Cancer for NHS England, said: “If you have had a negative Covid test but are still coughing after three weeks, do not delay – you must come forward to get a lung cancer check. Otherwise we are going to see people with cancer that’s become more advanced and much harder to treat.
“It is understandable that people haven’t wanted to trouble the health service during the pandemic or have been worried about attending appointments because of the Covid risk. However, the risk of a cancer that you don’t pay attention to is much greater than the risk of coronavirus. GP practices have introduced a series of measures to make them Covid-safe. The NHS is open and ready to see anyone with a concerning symptom – it could save your life.”
Dr Henry Steer, Consultant Respiratory Physician and Lung Cancer Lead at Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “In the South West of England we have seen far fewer people diagnosed with lung cancer since the COVID pandemic began, and in particular there has been a shortfall in the numbers diagnosed with early stage, curable cancer.
“This means that at this moment in time there are people across the South West going about their lives who have symptoms of a curable lung cancer. So it is very important that you make an appointment to see your GP if you have a persistent cough for more than 3 weeks and your COVID test was negative. If caught early lung cancer has a very good chance of being cured with treatment.”
Dr Cyrus Daneshvar, Consultant in Respiratory Medicine at University Hospitals Plymouth, said: “The earlier we see and diagnose people with lung cancer, the better their chance of recovery. The advances in treatment have made a huge difference over survivorship in the past 5 years. The tests are very straightforward and safe, while the risk of getting COVID from visiting the hospital for investigations is extremely low.”
NHS England has also introduced a series of innovations in cancer care during the pandemic, including COVID-19-secure surgery hubs that were set up across the country and £160 million invested in ‘COVID-19-friendly’ cancer drugs, that treat patients without having such a big impact on their immune system or offer other benefits such as fewer hospital visits.