The facts about the country’s biggest cancer killer

22 November 2016

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month and national charity The Roy Castle Foundation is campaigning to get people thinking about what is Britain’s biggest cancer killer.

Around 35,000 people die in the UK every year from lung cancer and, although closely linked to smoking (it’s estimated that worldwide 100 million people died as a result of smoking in the last century), a seventh of lung cancer diagnoses involve non-smokers.Lung cancer

Using a range of case studies where people who have been diagnosed with lung cancer tell their stories, the charity is hoping to increase knowledge of the disease and its symptoms so people can seek help earlier and so increase their chances of survival.

Most cases of lung cancer cases are diagnosed at Accident and Emergency. This is because there’s a widespread lack of understanding about what might be symptoms of the disease.

In many cases, people think they just have a stubborn cough or are just feeling below par without realising they may have cancer. Lung cancer symptoms can include:

  • A persistent cough
  • A cough that changes or gets worse
  • Fatigue
  • Breathlessness
  • Coughing up blood or blood in saliva
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Regular chest infections
  • Chest and/or shoulder pain
  • A hoarse voice
  • Difficulty swallowing or pain when swallowing
  • A temperature of 38c or above
  • Clubbing of the fingers (where the ends of the finger swell and become warm and red and the nails curve downwards)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pain or discomfort under the ribs on the right side of the body
  • A swelling in the neck or face

Anyone with the above symptoms should see their doctor or call the charity’s free nurse-led helpline on 0800 358 7200.

There are a number of myths surrounding lung cancer including the belief it is just a smokers’ disease and that it’s a male, working class condition. In fact, lung cancer can affect anyone and there’s been a recent rise in the number of women contracting the disease.

Although smoking remains by far the greatest risk, exposure to second-hand smoke (often called passive smoking) or substances including asbestos and radon gas, can also be harmful.

Another misconception is that lung cancer is an older person’s disease. Although it’s most common in smokers in their 60s and 70s, people in their 20s and 30s are frequently being diagnosed with the condition.

Although often thought to be a death sentence, if caught in its earliest stage survival rates can be as high as 73 per cent for some kinds of lung cancer. Overall, around 30 per cent of people with the disease will live for at least a year after their diagnosis. That’s why it’s so important to see a doctor if someone has any of the symptoms above, as the sooner it’s diagnosed and treated, the better the chances of survival.

The best ways to keep lungs healthy are:

  • Don’t smoke
  • Stop smoking if you have already started
  • Keep physically active

Some facts about smoking:

  • It causes one in four of all deaths from cancer in the UK and is the single greatest avoidable risk factor for cancer
  • About 50 per cent of all life-long smokers will die early
  • Stopping smoking immediately cuts the risk of lung cancer. 10 years after stopping smoking, the risk of lung cancer is half that of someone who has continued to smoke
  • People who have smoked 20 a day for 40 years have a higher risk of lung cancer than those who have smoked 40 a day for 20 years

Advice on how to stop smoking can be found on the NHS Choices website. You can also visit this website for more information about the The Roy Castle Foundation campaign.