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Be clear on cancer


Over 150,000 deaths from lung cancer, lung disease and heart disease each year[i][1] 

  • Public Health England campaign urges people to see a GP if they have breathlessness or a persistent cough, as these are key symptoms of these diseases
  • Call comes as new survey reveals that people are more likely to encourage others to seek medical help than go themselves[ii]   
  • Early diagnosis is vital to save lives and improve quality of life

Lung cancer,[2] heart disease and lung disease cause more than 150,000 deaths in England each year.1* Early diagnosis can save lives and improve the quality of life of those living with conditions such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), a common form of lung disease that includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

Getting out of breath doing things you used to be able to do, or having a cough that has lasted for three weeks or more, could be a sign of lung disease, including lung cancer. Breathlessness can also be a sign of heart disease. As well as prompting anyone with these symptoms to see their GP, the campaign also calls on people to look out for each other and encourage friends and family to act.

This call comes as a new survey found that adults over 50 are more likely to encourage others to see the doctor than go themselves:2

  • 86%[1] would urge friends and family with these symptoms to see their GP;
  • only 67%[2]  would contact the GP themselves if they experienced symptoms.

In England there are around 1.8 million people who have been diagnosed with coronary heart disease (CHD), the main type of heart disease[iii] and 1 million people diagnosed with COPD.[iv] Around 37,600 people are diagnosed with lung cancer each year.[v]

Early diagnosis and treatment can make a big difference to the quality of life and help people live longer, however late diagnosis is common. The survey found a third (32%) of people would wait for a month or longer before visiting the GP if they experienced breathlessness doing everyday things and over half (55%) would wait over a month before speaking to their GP if they had a persistent cough.2

Julia Verne, Clinical Lead for Public Health England, comments:“Breathlessness and a persistent cough are symptoms that can be easily ignored or put down to getting older, or seen as just minor health niggles. But these symptoms can be warning signs and it is really important to get them checked out by a doctor. People are more likely to urge others to seek medical help for these symptoms than to speak to a GP themselves. If anyone has concerns, we would encourage them to seek medical advice, as getting help early rather than waiting until the problem gets worse is vital. Early diagnosis saves lives and can improve quality of life for people with long term conditions, so if you find yourself getting out of breath doing things you used to be able to do, or if you have a cough that has lasted for three weeks or more, get it checked out.”

Health Minister, Steve Brine, comments: “Last week’s cancer survival statistics showed more people are surviving cancer than ever before and early diagnosis is crucial‎ – that’s why the Government is proud to support the Be Clear on Cancer campaign to help more people recognise the signs so they can beat this terrible illness.”

Professor Chris Harrison, National Clinical Director for Cancer at NHS England, said: “The good news is that cancer survival rates are now at their highest ever, and earlier diagnosis and treatment will help us make further gains for the 150,000 people who die of lung cancer, lung disease and heart disease in England each year.

“The earlier people are diagnosed, the better their chances, and that’s why campaigns like this – which help people understand what symptoms to look out for and when to visit the GP – are so important.”

Real stories of survivors of cancer – Wilfred Griffith and heart disease – Sadhana Press can we be watched here

Wilfred’s story

Sadhana’s story

For further information about the signs and symptoms of lung cancer, lung disease and heart disease, search ‘Be Clear on Cancer.’

[1] Based on an average of 36,354 deaths from lung disease, 85,727 deaths from heart disease and 28,661 from lung cancer per year 2013 to 2015

[2] Lung cancer is a form of lung disease, however, data collected on lung disease records lung cancer separately to other forms of the disease, such as COPD.


[i] Mortality statistics – underlying cause, sex and age C33-C34 Malignant neoplasm of trachea, bronchus and lung,I05-I09 Chronic rheumatic heart diseases,I10-I15 Hypertensive diseases,I20-I25 Ischaemic heart diseases,I26-I52 Other heart diseases,J40-J47 Chronic lower respiratory diseases,J60-J70 Lung diseases due to external agents,J80-J84 Other respiratory diseases principally affecting the interstitium,J85-J86, Suppurative and necrotic conditions of lower respiratory tract, J90-J94 Other diseases of pleura    ONS Crown Copyright Reserved [from Nomis on 13 June 2017]

[ii] The research was conducted via an online survey by Kantar Public. A nationally representative sample of 3,000 adults aged 50-89 were interviewed from April 11th – 19th 2017. 

[iii] Quality and Outcomes Framework 2015-16, England. Publication date: 27 October 2016

[iv] COPD register from 2015-16 Quality and Outcomes Framework (QOF)

[v] Office of National Statistics Cancer  Registration Statistics, England Accessed via        (accessed 13 June 2017)

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