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At a low ebb

Awareness of lung cancer and its position as the number one cancer killer across Europe, is surprisingly low in the region, according to a new survey

Awareness of the prevalence of lung cancer among Europeans is staggeringly low, with 70 per cent of people across the region not concerned about developing lung cancer, according to the results of a pan-European public and patient survey published on the eve of Lung Cancer Awareness Month.

The survey was conducted online amongst 1,270 members of the general public and 157 lung cancer patients in France, Spain, Italy, Germany and the UK, (general public respondents were all over 30 and were screened to ensure they were not suffering from and never had suffered from lung cancer).

While 39 per cent of general public respondents know someone who currently suffers from, or has recently had lung cancer, and a quarter have a family member who has suffered from the disease, 40 per cent of the total sample believe breast cancer to be the number one cancer killer in Europe, adding to fears that awareness of lung cancer and the risks of developing the disease are perilously low.

Among the patient group awareness of the disease and its tell-tale symptoms was also very low with 50 per cent of those diagnosed with lung cancer living with the symptoms for up to a month before seeking professional help. As many of the symptoms do not present themselves until the advanced stages of the disease, putting up with shortness of breath, chest pains and coughing up blood for a whole month can jeopardise the success of the treatment.

Almost half of the lung cancer patients that took part in the survey discovered they had the disease by chance during a visit to their doctor for another reason.

With most patients dying within 12 months of their diagnosis, according to a report from the Karolinska Institute and the Stockholm School of Economics (2005), early detection of the disease is crucial to improving patient outcomes.

ìLung cancer is often forgotten or simply misunderstood,î said Dr Jesme Fox, medical director of The Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation and secretary of the Global Lung Cancer Coalition. If there is one thing that people need to know about lung cancer, it's that early diagnosis saves lives. In particular, high-risk groups, such as smokers, need to take action if they think something is wrong. Don't ignore symptoms - see a doctor quickly,î she added.

Localised cancers detected at an early stage may be successfully treated using radiation or surgery, with up to 70 per cent of these patients surviving for at least five years following diagnosis if treated at this stage. However, fewer than 5 per cent of patients with advanced lung cancer are still alive after five years, with most of them dying within six months.

Of the 157 patients surveyed by Roche, 86 per cent were being treated with chemotherapy from which 83 per cent said they were experiencing a whole host of debilitating side effects. The majority of patients said they wanted a treatment that would improve their general well being, enabling them to lead a normal life and spend time with their families.

While there is increased availability of a variety of treatment options just 14 per cent of European lung cancer patients are benefiting from these.

Lung cancer claims around 342,000 lives each year across Europe - that's 937 deaths every day.

2nd September 2008

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