Residents of North Lancashire and South Cumbria are being urged by respiratory clinicians to look out for the signs and symptoms of lung cancer during a national awareness month.
Dr Urmi Gupta, a Respiratory Consultant and Clinical Lead for Lung Cancer for University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust (UHMBT), says if lung cancer is detected at an early stage patients have a much better chance of surviving it.
Joanne Darby, a Lung Cancer Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) for UHMBT, echoes Dr Gupta’s words and is encouraging people to seek help as soon as they have symptoms of lung cancer.
Dr Gupta says: “See your GP sooner rather than later if you have symptoms. Your GP can organise chest x-rays and further tests. The aim for all people with lung cancer is to find it early and to cure them. This means that the cancer is removed completely – usually through surgery. Treatment can also include chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
“Even with increased awareness around cancer we are still finding that a large amount of people are presenting ‘late’ with symptoms.”
Joanne says: “Most people who we see tell us that they had a feeling that something serious was wrong.
“If you are worried about any symptoms, please see your GP as soon as possible. It could save your life.”
Dr Gupta says lung cancer is more common as people get older but it can occur at any age. It doesn’t only affect smokers and symptoms often only appear at a later stage. However, treatments for lung cancer have improved in recent years and survival rates are higher.
Symptoms can include coughing up blood, a persistent cough that doesn’t go away, breathlessness, getting out of breath easily, feeling tired, having a hoarse voice, chest and/or shoulder pain and loss of appetite.
Dr Gupta explains: “There are various ways in which lung cancer can present. Some people just feel run down and sometimes it presents as a chest infection that doesn’t go away or repeated chest infections.
“You can take steps to protect yourself from cancer in general by giving up smoking, exercising regularly and losing weight.”
Dr Gupta believes that listening to patients at the Trust and finding out what they want is extremely important: “We try to give our patients as much useful information as possible so they know the risks and the benefits of their treatment options. It’s very much a patient-centred service.
“Lung cancer has changed a lot in the last few years. We are starting to see much better survival rates because newer, more targeted, treatments are now available. More people are living with cancer rather than dying with it.”
Official data reveals that from 2015 to 2017 more than 35,000 people died from lung cancer. In that same period, 21 per cent – one fifth of all cancer deaths – were lung cancer deaths.
Joanne says: “Treatments are improving all the time. There is more molecular testing of tumours so we can look at specific drugs to treat different mutations. The gold standard used to be chemotherapy but now we can also do molecular testing.
“We also have immunotherapy which uses our immune system to fight cancer. It works by helping the immune system to recognise and attack cancer cells.”
In the Lung Cancer Team there are four nurses working across the Bay. Patients see the team through their GP, through A&E or different consultants who may have found cancer during clinical investigations.
The Lung Cancer Team also works with Radiologists, Pathologists, Surgeons, Oncologists, Endoscopy staff and admin colleagues.
Joanne and her CNS colleagues are there to be an advocate for patients: “We are a nurse-led service,” she explains. “Our patients are at the centre of everything we do.
“We see the person right from the beginning of their patient journey through their diagnosis, treatment and beyond.
“One of the first things we do is to request a CT scan and make sure that is done in a timely fashion. We can also provide initial advice and support to the patient and their family.
“We discuss findings and diagnosis at our multi-disciplinary team meeting every week. Following the meeting, patients are invited to clinic as a matter of priority to discuss the treatment options.
“The biggest part of our role is supporting the patient through the lung cancer ‘pathway’. It can be a very frightening time for them. Most patients say it’s the worst time because they don’t yet know what is going on.
“The patients get to know our Lung Cancer Clinical Nurse Specialists and understand that they are there for them.
“They can see that they are not alone and that the CNSs are there to look after them. We are there for family members because they suffer a lot as well.”
Dr Gupta says: “In the last 12 months I have made about 260 new lung cancer diagnoses.
“A lot of experts across the Trust are involved in the diagnosis and treatment of people with lung cancer.
“I personally love my job. I love the patient contact and developing relationships with people. We are with some patients for years to come so we get to know them really well.”
Joanne adds: “We can also signpost people to other support services. We look at the whole person and not just at the cancer diagnosis. We can direct people to physical, emotional, psychological and financial support services.
“If people are receiving palliative care we can help them to live with cancer for longer. The main thing is to help people to live as long as possible and to live well with cancer.”
Here are some useful links with information about lung cancer: