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A turning point for lung cancer

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Nick Whitehead

Patient Advocate Of Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation

I was given a 50% chance of surviving five years. I am now lung cancer free. Mine is a happy story, an opportunity for cure. The same cannot be said for the majority of people diagnosed with lung cancer… Until now, that is.

At the beginning of the year, NHS England announced the roll-out of lung health checks in several areas across the country. Its aim is simple – to improve the early detection of lung cancer and other respiratory diseases. It is trying to save the lives of people like me.

Because, at present, I am the minority. In nearly 50 years, long-term survival for lung cancer has barely budged. In the 1970s, 10-year survival rate for lung cancer was less than 5%. Now, at the dawn of a new decade, it is still just 5%, while other cancer survival rates have doubled.

This is because lung cancer is difficult to diagnose early. Symptoms, at best, are vague and easily dismissed as something less sinister. At worst, they are non-existent, only surfacing when the cancer has spread, and curative treatment is no longer possible.

In 2020, those eligible for a lung health check will start to receive an invitation from their GP.

I was lucky to spot early warning signs

I was fortunate. I coughed up two blood clots about the size a two-pound coin. I went straight to the doctor and, after a series of tests, was diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer, still not ‘early early’ but early enough to have curative treatment.

Less than 12 months after surgery, I was back scuba diving. I was back in full-time employment. I was back living my life and planning a future with my wife, Paula.

Now, I am working with Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation to give others the same opportunity.

A life-saving invitation

In 2020, those eligible for a lung health check will start to receive an invitation from their GP. If you do receive an invitation, please go. I cannot stress this enough.

I know we are busy. I know the thought of it is quite scary, but you have nothing to lose and, potentially, everything to gain.

Chances are, everything will be okay, and you’ll be reassured by that. However, if you do have lung cancer, it is not going to go away on its own. The sooner you go, the better your chances of getting diagnosed early; and the better your chance of having a similar experience to me, where lung cancer is a bump in the road, rather than the end of it.

For more information about lung health checks, visit www.roycastle.org/lunghealthchecks

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