As a Macmillan lung cancer nurse specialist, the majority of patients I see present with late and incurable disease (87 per cent), and most will die with one year. Improvements in cancer waiting times have enhanced the patient's journey, but more lives could be saved if patients were able to identify their symptoms earlier and therefore be diagnosed earlier.
Charity Macmillan Cancer Support opted to use November's Lung Cancer Awareness Month, to highlight signs and symptoms of lung cancer to women, after discovering that only six per cent of women are confident in knowing these, compared with 80 per cent for the signs for breast cancer. This is frighteningly low, especially as lung cancer is the UK's biggest cancer killer.
Macmillan's research, conducted this year, showed that more than half of women (53 per cent) feared developing breast cancer more than developing lung cancer (23 per cent). This is in spite of the fact that the number of women diagnosed with lung cancer is increasing year on year; by contrast, the number of men diagnosed with lung cancer is declining, apparently due to smoking trends.
Primary care nurses must step in to raise awareness through health education, ensuring that current- and ex-smokers and patients with existing respiratory conditions are aware of the signs and symptoms of lung cancer, leading to earlier detection of this condition, which can save lives. The symptoms include persistent chest infections, cough, coughing up blood, hoarse voice, unexplained shortness of breath, unexplained weight loss and chest pain.
Symptoms do not mean a person has lung cancer but that they should be seen by their GP as soon as possible. Primary care nurses are best positioned to facilitate this process and must ensure referrals are made. The evidence suggests that smoking cessation works and preventing or stopping smoking reduces risk of lung cancer. The role of primary care nurses is key in promoting this message.
- Chris Garlick is a Macmillan lung cancer nurse specialist in Suffolk