Doctor tells of ‘shock’ after lung cancer diagnosis at age of 38

Raising awareness of the signs of some cancers will be “crucial” in preventing late diagnosis, a medic has said.

Dr Paul Brennan, a consultant neurosurgeon at the Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences at the University of Edinburgh, said the symptoms of some forms of the disease “can be difficult to spot”.

He spoke out as a survey for the Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce (LSCT), carried out by Sapio Research, found only one per cent of people in the UK could correctly identify all the symptoms of liver cancer from a list presented to them.

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Meanwhile, Dr Ruthra Coventry, a consultant anaesthetist from Aberdeen, told of her “complete shock” at being diagnosed with lung cancer in 2018, despite her medical background.

Dr Ruthra Coventry, Consultant Anaesthetist at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary

Speaking on Less Survivable Cancers Awareness Day, Dr Coventry said: “I was only 38 years old when I was diagnosed with lung cancer, which came as a complete shock despite being a doctor.

“I had been suffering from recurrent chest infections, which I just put down to having a toddler bringing home from nursery.

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

She stressed: “I am now at four years post-surgery and clear of any cancer, so would like to emphasise how important it is to get checked early if you have any doubts.

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

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

Together, they make up nearly half of all common cancer deaths in the UK, the taskforce said.

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More than 90,000 people are diagnosed with either lung, liver, brain, stomach, pancreatic and oesophageal cancer in the UK each year – with these forms of the disease accounting for in excess of 67,000 deaths per year.

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

Brain cancer can cause problems such as headaches, nausea and seizures, while pancreatic and stomach cancer can cause stomach pains, unexpected weight loss and feeling sick.

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

“It’s one of the many challenges that we’re facing in the fight against these deadly diseases.”

She added: “The Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce is urging everyone to be aware of the symptoms of cancer and to seek medical help at the earliest opportunity if they recognise any of the signs.”

Dr Paul Brennan, a consultant neurosurgeon at the Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences at the University of Edinburgh, added: “The symptoms of less survivable cancers such as brain tumours can be difficult to spot, or even non-existent until the later stages of the disease.

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“Despite this, public awareness of the common signs is crucial if we’re going to tackle the problem of late diagnosis.

“As well as this, we need more emphasis and investment in research for treatment and prevention of these cancers if we’re going to increase survival chances.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson 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 Detect Cancer Early (DCE) Programme.

“Work is under way to develop a new earlier cancer diagnosis vision in Scotland that will outline the future of the DCE Programme. This vision will form part of the new cancer strategy, due to publish in spring 2023.

“Last October we announced that the next two Rapid Cancer Diagnostic Services (RCDS) will be established in NHS Lanarkshire and NHS Borders to add to RCDSs in NHS Ayrshire and Arran, NHS Dumfries and Galloway and NHS Fife, providing a new referral route for those patients with serious but non-specific symptoms which could be cancer.

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

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