Lung Cancer: COVID’s hidden victim

We all know that the current coronavirus pandemic has been destructive beyond measure, to human lives and the health of our population. But – the NHS is not closed and your GP is still here to help you and it is vitally important that the pandemic does not prevent people seeking medical advice when they need it.

Medical Director for Wessex Cancer Alliance, Matt Hayes, says:

“Our data tells us that fewer people are contacting their GP, but when they do a higher than usual percentage of the referrals made for suspected cancer are being diagnosed at a more advanced stage. This means people may be sitting on their symptoms – either because they think they might have Covid-19, or they are afraid to catch Covid-19, or maybe they think the symptoms will simply go away.”

Dr Andie Siggers, a GP in Dorset adds:

“Worryingly, we have also heard that some people think their illness is less severe than Covid-19, so they decide to stay away to prevent being a burden on the NHS. Let me tell you now; you are not a burden, your life and your health is just as important as anyone else’s and we want to help you but we need you to help us, and speak to your GP when you have a concern.”

Dorset respiratory consultant Jenny Graves says:

“One of the harder cancers to differentiate from the symptoms of Covid-19, is Lung Cancer. For many patients, the sign to look out for is a persistent cough – that is, one that lasts for three weeks or more. It is challenging because some patients with Covid-19 will be left with a persistent cough. We would advise that, if you have had a persistent cough for three weeks or more and are worried it might be Covid-19, book a test via the NHS Test and Trace website or call 119. If that test is negative, but your cough persists – then please speak to your GP as it may well be the sign of something else.”

Thoracic Surgeon at University Hospital Southampton, Aiman Altzetani has the following advice:

“We know that this is a scary time and people are anxious about coming to hospitals but when it comes to cancer, it is a well known and proven fact that the earlier we catch your cancer, the better your chances of surviving will be. We have measures in place to keep you safe and the time you spend in hospital will be kept to a minimum for your tests but it really is vital that we find out what is causing your symptoms so we can rule out cancer or get you started on the treatment you need…

We are in particular, concerned about patients from ethnic communities who are reluctant to seek health advice due to a variety of barriers such as language or culture, we would like to assure them that we will be able to cater for their needs and arrange the necessary translators and cultural sensitive services to help them voice their concerns and get the timely and appropriate treatment”.

Lung cancer is not just something you get if you are a smoker, although that will increase your risk; there are other factors that can mean you are more at risk from this disease, such as family history, growing up around smokers and/or working in certain environments where asbestos may have been present for example. As well as a persistent cough, other symptoms can also be,

  •  coughing up blood
  •  sudden weight loss that you cannot explain
  •  fatigue (extreme tiredness)
  •  a loss of appetite.

If you speak to your GP and they are concerned your symptoms may be cancer, they will refer you on what is known as a Fast-Track referral. The first test that will be carried out, is a chest x-ray – many of which are currently taking place in sites away from where Covid patients are being treated, to help reduce the risk to patients and staff. You may also be booked for a CT scan, the results of which will be reviewed by a specialist. Your clinical team will explain everything to you and provide you with leaflets or links to online forms you can read to get more information.

Jenny Graves had this final message:

“Lung cancer feels like the hidden victim of Covid-19 and patients should not feel like they cannot seek the support they need. It is our wish that people come to see their GP as soon as possible, not waiting to be in severe pain or discomfort before they seek help. We have measures in place to protect patients against being exposed to Covid-19 when they are in health care environments. To make a diagnosis and start early treatment, we need to establish an early diagnosis and we can’t do that if you stay away”.

The NHS has been running the Help Us Help You campaign throughout the pandemic, and this month will see new TV and radio adverts, raising awareness of Lung cancer. We hope that people who think they were helping the NHS by keeping away, will see the importance of seeking help early, and book an appointment with their GP today.

Watch a patient video from Dr Andie Siggers

Watch a patient video from Dr Jennifer Graves