30th November 2020

Prevent the crash: The importance of diagnosing lung cancer early

View all Early detection

Written as part of the Guardian’s Respiratory Campaign Nov 2020

In a world where tiredness comes as standard, weight loss is welcomed and a cough is Covid, how do we diagnose lung cancer earlier?

With a disease as serious as lung cancer, you would expect symptoms to match the severity. You would expect a clear or obvious warning light – gasping for breath, a violent and unshakable cough, intense chest pains.

Because how could something so acute not send out an adequate alert?

However the reality is, when it comes to lung cancer, it’s less about the tyre blow out at 70mph down the M6 and more about the slow puncture.

Recognising the signs

Lung cancer symptoms can be subtle and easily dismissed as something else. A bit of breathlessness is because you’re a bit out of shape. Lack of energy can be down to anything from poor diet to low mood. And a persistent cough? Well, we all know what springs to mind now when we hear a cough.

For Keshu, one of the patients featured in our Still Here awareness campaign, the first symptom was weight loss. But instead of seeing this as a warning, Keshu was happy to have lost a few kilos. Even when the cough started, alarm bells still didn’t ring.

It was only when the third set of antibiotics failed to work that questions were finally asked. But by then it was too late. The tyre had blown. It was lung cancer and it had spread.

Acting on instinct

Ruthra’s story starts in similar fashion. She put her symptoms – recurrent chest infections – down to her child bringing bugs home from nursery.

However, Ruthra soon noticed that she was getting these infections far more regularly than her husband and was even succumbing to them in the summer months. As a fit and healthy, 37-year-old Ruthra recognised something wasn’t right and, whilst lung cancer was not even a passing thought, she asked to see a respiratory specialist.

It was a decision that may have saved her life because, as unlikely as it was, Ruthra was diagnosed with early stage lung cancer.

Finding lung cancer early, like Ruthra, is key. To do that, we have to take notice of the little differences in our health and be our own advocate. They might be small. They are probably something far less serious. But why take that risk?

Get the slow puncture checked. Avoid the tyre blow out. Prevent the crash.