World Cancer Day is a special time dedicated for people across the globe to take stock, raise awareness, and urge decisive action to tackle this disease in all its forms.
This year World Cancer Day aims to #CloseTheCareGap, examining and understanding the inequities in cancer care around the world.
Worldwide, too many people face barriers when accessing cancer care, and in the UK it’s no different – particularly after the last two years.
Before the pandemic struck, lung cancer care was improving. It was estimated that the five-year survival rate had gone up to 17.6%. However, many now estimate only 13% of people diagnosed in the UK will live for five years or more.
We are only now beginning to see the true impact of the pandemic on lung cancer. Figures from the recent National Lung Cancer Audit saw surgery fall by a quarter. This coupled with an increase in emergency presentations at A&E, all point to a sharp rise in later diagnoses and more lives being cut needlessly short.
This problem carried on throughout 2021, with the number of people presenting with lung cancer symptoms still below expected levels.
How we move forward
Here at Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, our work is more important than ever before.
Awareness of lung cancer symptoms remains key to improving earlier diagnoses. We need to continue to improve understanding and awareness, and to ensure people recognise the many different symptoms of lung cancer, understand the importance of acting on even ‘vague’ symptoms and are equipped to advocate for themselves to get possible symptoms investigated as soon as possible.
That’s why we continue to run regular awareness campaigns to make certain that more people are aware of all symptoms and remember this simple truth – that anyone with lungs can get lung cancer.
We know that accessing primary care remains difficult for some in the wake of the pandemic, but it is essential to be persistent if your symptoms do not clear up. We spoke to primary care nurse and executive chair of the primary care respiratory society, Carol Stonham, about the best ways to navigate the system and make sure you are giving the full extent of symptoms.
Staggeringly, a third of people diagnosed with early-stage lung cancer choose not to have curative intent treatment. Dr Emma O’Dowd and Dr Helen Morgan are working to understand the barriers people with lung cancer face when accessing treatment and seeing if we can find ways to overcome them and help more people access the best possible treatment.
Targeted Lung Health Checks
Targeted lung health checks play a pivotal role in the recovery of lung cancer. Currently located in selected areas of England with the highest lung cancer incidence and mortality rates, these programmes can significant help improve early diagnosis and long-term survival.
We know that many people with early-stage lung cancer have few symptoms or even none at all. People like Jo and Bill. They were both invited for checks and had their lung cancer detected early enough for curative surgery. Their lung health checks saved their lives.
We are proud to be working with NHS England to ensure as many people as possible take up the opportunity if offered by raising awareness of the programmes and helping those invited to attend an appointment.
These pilot programmes are being trialled in the most at risk communities, with telephone appointments and mobile CT scanners situated in the heart of these communities, therefore making it much easier to attend.
Targeted lung health checks are currently available in 23 areas of England, with the next phase of programmes rolling out in April with people aged 55-74 and a history of smoking being invited.
We appreciate that these programmes are not available for everyone at the moment, but we believe that they mark just the beginning and will soon pave the way for a national lung cancer screening programme and continue to close the lung cancer gap, allowing more people across the whole of the UK to have access to the life-changing and life-saving treatment they need and deserve.
We often think back to that incredible speech by Roy Castle on his Tour of Hope where he said:
‘This is not for me. This is for our children and our children’s children’.
Together, we can get lung cancer referral rates back to where they should be. We can improve the future of lung cancer for ourselves, our children, and our children’s children. We can deliver Roy’s vision.
World Cancer Day is more than just a day in our calendars. For us, every day is World Cancer Day.