Public Health England launches Be Clear on Cancer respiratory campaign

Image Credit PHE Be Clear On Cancer Logo

Image Credit: PHE, Be Clear On Cancer Logo

Public Health England (PHE) has launched a new national campaign to raise awareness of lung cancer and other respiratory and heart conditions – all leading causes of death in England.

PHE warns that up to 1.7 million people in England may be ignoring respiratory symptoms which indicate cancer or chronic heart and lung disease. Its new Be Clear on Cancer campaign seeks to raise awareness of the signs of disease, and encourage those suffering from a persistent cough and/or breathlessness to see their GP as soon as possible.

Biggest cancer killer

Lung cancer is responsible for the deaths of 28,400 people each year in England, making it the biggest cancer killer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) claims a further 24,000 lives. The leading cause of death overall, however, is coronary heart disease, which accounts for the deaths of 56,000 people in England every year.  Early diagnosis and treatment of these conditions could save lives and improve the lives of those living with long-term respiratory disease, say PHE.

Perhaps most worrying of all, PHE estimates that there are around 80,000 people living with as yet undiagnosed lung cancer in England, and up to a million more are living with COPD, a collective term for lung diseases which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. In addition, there could be a further 600,000 people who experience respiratory problems as a result of undiagnosed coronary heart disease, so PHE is launching this campaign to raise life-saving awareness of the symptoms of respiratory disease.

PHE is urging anyone experiencing the below symptoms to see their GP:

  • a persistent cough which has lasted for more than three weeks
  • becoming out of breath while carrying out everyday tasks, such as vacuuming or light tidying

PHE says that breathlessness may also be indicative of heart disease.

Professor Kevin Fenton, PHE National Director for Health and Wellbeing says the estimated numbers of people with undiagnosed lung cancer, lung disease or heart disease, is “deeply concerning”. He says: “If diagnosed early, these diseases can be managed and treated successfully. This campaign will help people recognise the symptoms and encourage them to seek help, potentially saving lives from what are three of the biggest causes of death in England.”

Professor Chris Harrison, the National Clinical Director for Cancer for NHS England says: “People don’t always realise the significance and potential severity of their symptoms and may dismiss them as an inevitable part of ageing or their lifestyle, which is why this campaign is so important.

He adds: “Early diagnosis of cancer is absolutely critical to improving survival and is a main focus for the NHS.”

“Diagnosis often comes too late”

Jane Ellison, Minister for Public Health says: “It’s crucial that people are aware of the signs and symptoms of these diseases. Sadly, diagnosis often comes too late, which can have a devastating impact on those living with any of these conditions, as well as those close to them. The more people we can encourage to get their symptoms checked, the more likely they are to be diagnosed earlier and treated successfully.”

Image Credit PHE Dr Hilary Jones BCOC Board

Image Credit: PHE, Dr Hilary Jones BCOC Board

TV doctor, Dr Hilary Jones says: “People may put off visiting their GP for a number of reasons. Some may not realise a symptom like a persistent cough or getting out of breath doing things that you used to be able to do could be a sign of something serious, or they may be fearful of what they will find out, or even worry about wasting their GP’s time. These symptoms may well be nothing to worry about, but if it is something serious then the sooner it’s diagnosed, the better the chances of treating it effectively. Anyone who has either of these symptoms should visit their GP. Don’t worry about wasting our time, we want to see you.”

Could breathlessness be a sign of something more serious?

Dr Mike Knapton, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, says: “In my experience as a GP, many people experiencing breathlessness often brush it off as a symptom of being unfit, without knowing it could be a sign of something more serious. Coronary heart disease (the main cause of a heart attack) along with heart failure and heart rhythm disorders can all make someone feel out of breath and early diagnosis of these conditions is essential. Research breakthroughs now mean that many causes of breathlessness can be effectively treated and we would advise anyone experiencing symptoms to speak to their GP.”

Steven Wibberley, Chief Operating Officer at the British Lung Foundation says: “Our recent report, Battle for Breath, highlighted the need to raise awareness among the millions who may be unaware they have lung disease. Early diagnosis and treatment is essential to ensuring limited damage to lungs and better health outcomes. We are supporting Public Health England’s campaign to raise awareness that getting out of breath doing the things you used to be able to do could be a sign of something more serious like lung disease. Feeling breathless doing everyday tasks is not a normal part of life and should be investigated by a doctor. We are asking people to ‘Listen to your lungs’ and try our online breath test and take any actions needed to improve health and overall quality of life.”

Access the British Lung Foundation’s online breath test here.

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