New campaign launches in West Midlands region to raise awareness of the symptoms of lung cancer, lung disease and heart disease – all leading causes of death

15th Jul 2016

  • Campaign encourages anyone with a persistent cough, or who gets out of breath doing things they used to be able to do, to visit their GP as it could be a sign of one of these conditions
  • Finding these conditions early makes them more treatable, so early diagnosis is crucial

Public Health England today (14 July) launches a new ‘Be Clear on Cancer’ campaign with the aim of raising awareness of the symptoms of lung cancer, lung disease and heart disease – all leading causes of death in England.

Latest figures show that in the West Midland region, around 3,860 people are diagnosed with lung cancer each year. Around 108,367 people have been diagnosed with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease – a common form of lung disease that includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis) and around 199,913 with coronary heart disease.

Earlier diagnosis of these diseases has the potential to save lives. For instance, 83% of people diagnosed with lung cancer at the earliest stage (stage 1) will live for at least a year after diagnosis. At the latest stage (stage 4), this drops to 17%.  Sadly, around 3,073 die from the disease in the West Midlands each year.  Earlier diagnosis can also improve the quality of life of those living with conditions such as COPD.

Across England, lung cancer is the biggest cancer killer, accounting for around 28,400 deaths each year, while COPD is the cause of a further 24,000 deaths annually. Coronary heart disease (the main type of heart disease) is the single biggest cause of death, accounting for over 56,000 deaths in England each year.

A persistent cough or getting out of breath doing everyday tasks that you used to be able to do, such as mowing the lawn or vacuuming, could be a sign of lung cancer or other lung disease. Breathlessness could be a sign of heart disease as well. The campaign encourages anyone experiencing these symptoms to see their GP as finding these conditions early makes them more treatable.

The campaign is aimed at men and women aged 50 and over, as older people are most at risk of lung cancer, COPD and heart disease. It will build on the success of the previous Be Clear on Cancer lung cancer campaigns and a regional breathlessness pilot (which focused on lung and heart disease), making this the first national campaign of its kind to raise awareness of these conditions jointly.

Dr Lola Abudu, director for Health and Wellbeing at PHE West Midlands, said: “If lung cancer, lung disease or heart disease is diagnosed early, they 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.

 “Current figures show there are around 199,913 people in the region with coronary heart disease (CHD), while 108,367 people are managing the effects of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). Each year in the West Midlands something like 3,860 people are diagnosed with lung cancer, while around 3,073 people will lose their life to the disease.

 “It is vital that people go to the doctor as soon as they think something may be wrong, as early diagnosis makes all of these conditions more treatable. If you’ve had a cough for three weeks or more or if you get out of breath doing things you used to be able to do – like vacuuming or mowing the lawn – it could be a sign of lung or heart disease, or even lung cancer. So don’t ignore it, go and see your doctor.”

Media Medic, Dr Hilary Jones added: “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.”

 The nationwide Be Clear on Cancer campaign will begin on Thursday 14 July and run until 16 October. For further information about the signs and symptoms of lung cancer, other lung diseases and heart disease, search ‘Be Clear on Cancer’.


Case study 1

Chris, a 65 year old semi-retired vehicle delivery driver and father of two from Birmingham, was diagnosed with lung cancer in July 2007, aged 56. He first realised there was a problem when having a laugh with people at work.

Chris said: “I knew very little about lung cancer before I had it. I’ve always led a really active lifestyle and stayed slim, so never thought something like this would happen to me. I was really surprised when one of the lads was mimicking me and he made a coughing noise – I had no idea that I had been making that noise, let alone doing it for months.”

Chris told his family what had happened at work and with their encouragement, despite rarely going to the doctor, decided to visit his GP to get it checked out. The doctor recommended that Chris have an X-ray to rule out the possibility of lung cancer. Days later Chris was referred to Heartlands Hospital in Birmingham and asked to return 48 hours later for a CAT scan. The day after the scan Chris had an appointment with the consultant who diagnosed early stage lung cancer.

Just one month on from being diagnosed, in August 2007, Chris was back in Heartlands Hospital undergoing surgery to remove the middle and lower part of his right lung. Following a successful operation, he then received a follow-up course of chemotherapy. Chris has now been in remission for nine years and leads a normal life. Chris said: “Don’t assume the worst if you have a persistent cough, but definitely go to your GP for a chat about it. If my daughter hadn’t told me to get myself checked out, I doubt I would have gone. Even if you just go to your GP to get your mind put at rest, it’s not wasting their time, they’d want to know. If it is something serious, the earlier you find it, the more likely your treatment will be successful.”

Case study 2

Syril (now 85) from Stoke-on-Trent was regularly coughing for around a year, but never once thought it would be anything serious. He assumed coughing was caused by chest infections, which he associated with getting older. However in late 2012 when he was 82, Syril visited his GP about the coughing and was referred for a chest X-ray at his local hospital. The X-ray showed possible signs of lung cancer, so Syril was sent for further breathing tests to determine the problem, which confirmed he had lung cancer in one of the lobes in his right lung.

Syril said: “It all happened really quickly, but I can’t praise the hospital staff enough, they were brilliant at explaining all the tests and procedures I needed.” Thankfully the cancer was operable and in early 2013, Syril was booked in for an operation to have it removed. Throughout the surgery and treatment Syril’s family was a great help. Syril said: “My family was really supportive and helped me through a really difficult time they kept me company in the hospital and looked after me after the procedures.”

Four years on Syril still goes for check-ups every six months to make sure the cancer doesn’t return, but he’s doing really well and has a great outlook on life. He’s also stopped smoking, as he was told it would help to limit the risk of further illness. Syril is clear on his advice to those who experience a persistent cough. He said: “It’s really simple, go to your doctor and don’t delay. I didn’t know anything about lung cancer, or what the signs were and you never expect these things to happen to you, but if you have a cough for three weeks or more, make sure you go to your doctor.”


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