Ex-England cricket captain Sir Andrew Strauss has thrown his support behind a new health campaign urging people to get a cancer check if they develop a persistent cough.
A new, continuous cough is among the symptoms of coronavirus, but NHS England and Public Health England (PHE) is highlighting that one lasting more than three weeks could also be a sign of lung cancer.
People with such symptoms who have tested negative for Covid-19 are urged to make an appointment with their GP to get checked out.
According to a survey of some 2,196 people in England aged over 16 in January, almost half did not know a cough lasting more than three weeks could be a symptom of lung cancer.
The research, commissioned by NHS England and PHE, also found that 61% would not make an appointment with their GP if they had such a symptom and a negative coronavirus test result.
Sir Andrew, whose wife Ruth died from a rare form of lung cancer aged 46 in 2018, said: “Lung cancer is a risk for everyone – Ruth had never smoked a cigarette in her life and was unbelievably fit and healthy.
“It’s so important that if you notice any loved ones showing symptoms that could be a sign of cancer that you encourage them to contact their GP practice.”
Supporting the campaign, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said diagnosing and treating cancer was “a top priority” and that “no one should feel they cannot come forward to get checked out- the NHS is open.”
NHS England said more people were coming forward for cancer checks since the first peak of the pandemic, but lung cancer referrals were “at 73% of the same point last year”.
According to the polling, of 1,349 respondents who said they would not make an appointment with their GP, 25% said they were waiting to see if symptoms would go away, while 31% were worried about burdening the NHS.
Professor Peter Johnson, national clinical director for cancer for NHS England, said people should not delay in getting symptoms checked.
He added: “It is understandable that people haven’t wanted to trouble the health service during the pandemic or have been worried about attending appointments because of the Covid risk.
“However, the risk of a cancer that you don’t pay attention to is much greater than the risk of coronavirus. GP practices have introduced a series of measures to make them Covid-safe.
“The NHS is open and ready to see anyone with a concerning symptom – it could save your life.”
The new campaign is also backed by TV presenter Gaby Roslin, whose mother died from lung cancer.
She said: “I remember sitting there on the phone to the doctor and she said ‘I’m afraid it is lung cancer’.
“Looking back on it my mum never told us how she was feeling, she was always making sure that we were all OK and making sure that my Dad was OK. If you catch it early it can make the biggest difference.”
Professor Sir Paul Cosford, emeritus medical director at PHE, who was diagnosed with late stage lung cancer in 2017, said: “Nothing can prepare you for being told you have cancer.
“I cannot emphasise enough the importance of going to your GP as soon as you notice any symptoms, such as a cough for three weeks or more. The NHS wants to see you.”
NHS England said more than 39,000 people are diagnosed with lung cancer each year.
People whose cancer is caught early at stage one have a 57.7% chance of living for another five years, compared to 3.1% for those diagnosed later at stage four.