Be Clear on Cancer: Symptoms to Spot

The health campaign heads to Birmingham to educate on signs of respiratory cancer

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Inderjit Singh, clinical lead for the LPN (Local Professional Network) Pharmacy stream and Chief Pharmacist of University Hospital Birmingham

The Asian Today had the privilege of meeting Inderjit Singh and the Be Clear on Cancer team at Bullring, Birmingham Shopping Centre on Wednesday 17th August. The roadshow, part of a new Public Health England campaign, is held to raise awareness that a persistent cough, or getting out of breath doing everyday things such as vacuuming or walking up a short flight of stairs, could be a sign of lung cancer or other lung disease. Breathlessness can also be a sign of heart disease. The event was held to encourage anyone who notices these symptoms to visit their GP as finding these conditions early makes them more treatable.

We first spoke to Inderjit Singh, the clinical lead for the LPN (Local Professional Network) Pharmacy stream and Chief Pharmacist of University Hospital Birmingham.

Why is it important to raise awareness of these diseases?

It is extremely important because the main symptoms are ones people live with every day such as breathlessness and coughing. We have found out that there are millions of people with lung disease that are undiagnosed, with lung cancer there are 80,000 undiagnosed and with heart disease there are 600,000 people undiagnosed. People are living with these symptoms and not getting the appropriate help at this stage.

What are the key symptoms we need to look out for?

You need to be coughing for three weeks and getting breathless more than usual when carrying out every day activities. Not when you are exercising but rather activities such as vacuuming the home or shopping, where you cannot complete it without taking a break or getting out of breath. Something may be wrong so you need to see a GP.

What age group is this campaign aimed at?

In particular people in the over 50 age group, but it is aimed at everyone because unfortunately these diseases can still affect any age group. Lung cancer is the cancer that kills the most people, with early diagnosis we found that 86% of patients survive the first year however with a late diagnosis only 17% survive. By getting a late diagnosis your prognosis may be quite poor, but by seeing a GP early on you can conclude whether you need further investigation and have a good chance of being cured.

Sophie and Jenna, part of the Be Clear on Cancer campaign
Sophie and Jenna, part of the Be Clear on Cancer campaign

Why do people put off going to the doctor?

It is multiple factors. No one thinks a cough is serious and getting out of breath can be attributed to getting old or being overweight. Also we are very conscious of GPs time as they are extremely busy people, we don’t want to burden them with what could be minor symptoms. It’s part of the culture of the country. What we want to say is we appreciate GP’s time however you do need to see someone just to get yourself checked out.

Is there anything we the public can do to prevent these diseases?

Unfortunately there is nothing we can do to prevent, all we can do is identify the symptoms.

Community pharmacists are the initial point of call as they can better review you and see if there is need for further investigation. Don’t buy cough medicine without having a discussion with them, they can signpost you to the most appropriate area. Also don’t consult Dr Google! That will cause more false information.

Are these diseases something we need to discuss with the South Asian Community in particular?

The South Asian community are reluctant to seek medical help and tend to put up with it. In the British Asian communities there is an increased percentage of smokers at over 40% whereas the White British communities are at 24%. Therefore the South Asian community are more prone to lung disease and lung cancer, also we have the obesity issue which can lead to heart conditions.

What do you hope the campaign will achieve?

We are educating community pharmacists and the media, we hope come September and October we will see more people coming to seek advice and support in relation to these conditions. However it is also important not to scare patients! It is about educating them, if someone comes in with a cough we might ask them to come back in two weeks’ time to see if it persists. Especially with winter coming we don’t want to tell patients who have their first cough that they might have lung cancer, it is a measured approach to creating that relationship with a patient and ensure you are providing that appropriate support and educational material.

What final message do you want to give to the public?

Ask the medical questions you need to ask and seek professional advice and support so you can get sign posted appropriately. Don’t just live with the conditions such as breathlessness and coughing, get it checked out, hopefully it won’t be anything serious and you can move on. However you can ensure you get diagnosed early on and stand a chance at eradicating the disease you may have.

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We also spoke to Jenna Westward, manager of Be Clear on Cancer campaign.

Since the campaign began in 2012 have you seen an increase in awareness of respiratory diseases?

I think we have made people more aware of the diseases.

What kind of people approach you when you campaign, do you get a mix of people?

We do get a mix of people who have health concerns, it is a very approachable process and people just want to speak to someone informally really.

Are there any particular groups of people you like to focus on?

The over 50 age group mainly who are seen to suffer from lung disease and heart disease more than the younger generation. But we are speaking to anyone because friends and family members may know someone who has the symptoms and encourage them to see a doctor.

Which other cities will you be covering with the campaign?

Sheffield, Leeds, Barnsley, Newcastle, Staffordshire, Leicester, Rugby, Blackburn and Sandwell.

What is the main message you want to give the public?

If they have symptoms of coughing for three weeks or more, getting out of breath easily with things that don’t normally get you out of breath then see a doctor as it could be lung disease or heart disease.

 

Be Clear on Cancer campaigns are run by Public Health England in partnership with the Department of Health and NHS England.

Symptoms:

  1. A cough that has lasted 3 weeks or more could be a sign of lung disease, including cancer
  2. Getting out of breath doing things you used to be able to do could be a sign of lung or heart disease, or even cancer

Other symptoms of heart disease or lung disease (including lung cancer) include:

  1. A cough that has got worse or changes
  2. Frequent chest infections
  3. Coughing up blood
  4. Chest pain or shoulder pain
  5. Wheezing
  6. Feeling more tired than usual for some time
  7. Losing weight for no obvious reason

 

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