Doctor tells of ‘shock’ after lung cancer diagnosis aged 38

Raising awareness of the signs of some cancers is crucial to preventing late diagnosis, a health professional said.

Paul Brennan, consultant neurosurgeon at Edinburgh University’s Center for Clinical Brain Sciences, said the symptoms of some forms of the disease “can be difficult to recognise”.

He commented that a survey for the Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce (LSCT) conducted by Sapio Research found that only 1% of people in the UK could correctly identify all the symptoms of liver cancer from a list presented to them.

Meanwhile, Ruthra Coventry, a consultant anesthetist from Aberdeen, told of her “complete shock” when she was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2018 despite her medical background.

On the occasion of Less Survivable Cancers Awareness Day, Dr. Coventry: “I was only 38 when I was diagnosed with lung cancer which, despite being a doctor, came as a complete shock.

“I had suffered from recurring chest infections which I simply put down to a toddler coming home from daycare.

“I finally decided to get checked out after having an episode of chest pain so excruciating that I had to go to an accident and emergency room.

“I am now four years post-op and cancer free, so I want to stress the importance of getting early screening when in doubt.

“Don’t go by stereotypes about who you think are lung cancer patients — I was fit and healthy running after my two-year-old.”

The LSCT is working to raise awareness of six less survivable forms of the disease – lung, liver, brain, oesophageal, pancreas and stomach cancer – which have an average five-year survival rate of just 16%.

Together they account for almost half of all common cancer deaths in the UK, the taskforce said.

More than 90,000 people are diagnosed with either lung, liver, brain, stomach, pancreas or gullet cancer in the UK each year – with these forms of the disease causing more than 67,000 deaths each year.

Symptoms of lung cancer can include a persistent cough, chest pain, or coughing up blood. Liver cancer can cause loss of appetite and unexpected weight loss and fatigue.

Brain cancer can cause problems like headaches, nausea, and seizures, while pancreatic and stomach cancer can cause abdominal pain, unexpected weight loss, and nausea.

Lorraine Dallas, Chair of the Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce Scotland group, said: “It is deeply concerning that the majority of the public is unaware of the common symptoms of less survivable cancers.

“This is one of the many challenges we face in the fight against these deadly diseases.

“The Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce urges everyone to be aware of the symptoms of cancer and to seek medical help as soon as possible if they spot any of the signs.”

dr Brennan added: “The symptoms of less survivable cancers such as brain tumors can be difficult to detect or even absent until the later stages of the disease.

“Nevertheless, raising public awareness of the most common signs is crucial if we are to address the issue of late diagnosis.

“We also need more emphasis and investment in research into the treatment and prevention of these cancers if we are to increase the chances of survival.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We know that the earlier cancer is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat and even cure, which is why we continue to invest in our Cancer Early Detection (DCE) programme.

“Work is underway to develop a new vision for earlier cancer diagnosis in Scotland, which will outline the future of the DCE programme. This vision will be part of the new cancer strategy to be published in spring 2023.

“Last October we announced that the next two Rapid Cancer Diagnosis Services (RCDS) would be launched in NHS Lanarkshire and NHS Borders to complement the RCDSs in NHS Ayrshire and Arran, NHS Dumfries and Galloway and NHS Fife and provide a new referral pathway for patients with severe but non-specific symptoms that could be cancer.

“We would encourage anyone with unusual or ongoing symptoms to contact their GP practice.”

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