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Don't Take Your Lungs For Granted

Don't Take Your Lungs For Granted

A new report released today reveals New Zealanders know very little about the symptoms of lung cancer, or just how common lung cancer is.

This is despite the fact that lung cancer is the most common cause of death from cancer in New Zealand for both men and women.

According to Associate Professor Chris Atkinson, Oncologist and Cancer Society Medical Director, “Lung cancer accounts for around 19% of cancer deaths (almost 1,650 people per year) and 2,000 people are diagnosed with it every year”.1

“Whilst there is a strong association between smoking and lung cancer, non-smokers are at risk too. This Report highlights the need to raise awareness of the key symptoms of lung cancer. People need to know the symptoms and seek medical advice quickly,” says Chris Atkinson.

“The prognosis is much better when there is an early diagnosis,” he added.

The 2014 Lung Cancer Health Report, launched by the Minister of Health Tony Ryall at a Parliamentary reception today, identifies that of the 1,507 people surveyed, few could identify a common potential symptom of lung cancer. Only 29% identified a persistent cough and as few as 17% identified shortness of breath.2

In the Report, commissioned by Pfizer New Zealand, only 27% of those surveyed said they had a high knowledge of lung cancer. This is in contrast to 50% of women saying they have a high knowledge of breast cancer and 35% of men saying they have a high knowledge of prostate cancer. 43% of adults said they had a high knowledge of melanomas.2

“It’s easy to take our lungs for granted,” says Dalton Kelly, Chief Executive of the Cancer Society of New Zealand, “We breathe without even realising it. It’s time for Kiwis to brush up on their knowledge and be more aware and proactive when it comes to lung health”.

“It is important that we all know the signs and symptoms of lung cancer – so that we can be aware when ‘things are not right,’ and visit our health professional,” says Dalton Kelly.

“We know that smoking plays a large part in lung cancer, but not in every case. Whilst we actively promote healthy lifestyles the greatest urgency is to reduce children’s exposure to tobacco smoke to ensure they grow up with healthy lungs, and most importantly, don’t take up the habit,” says Dalton Kelly.

Survival from lung cancer in New Zealand, especially for Māori, is poor compared with many other countries. The five-year survival rate from lung cancer is around 10% in New Zealand for the total population and only 7% for Māori. Whereas, in Australia, and the USA, the survival rate is as high as 12-16% by comparison.3 It is thought the poorer survival rates in New Zealand reflect late diagnosis.

Chris Atkinson says “The disparity in lung cancer incidence, treatment and mortality rates between Māori and non-Māori suggest that Māori are waiting too long to see a doctor. When they do present to a GP or to A&E with blood in their spit, their lung cancer is often advanced and untreatable.

“By presenting to a GP early, a chest x-ray could rule out cancer, or diagnose it at an earlier stage when it may be treatable and curable,” adds Chris Atkinson.

Managing Director of Pfizer New Zealand, Melissa McGregor, says “This Report aims to dispel community misconceptions about lung cancer by encouraging people to both act early on symptoms and help prevent lung cancer by giving up smoking”.

“A greater awareness of symptoms and early intervention can help improve outcomes for a loved one. If this Report can help achieve a better quality of life for those diagnosed with lung cancer and allow them to spend more time with their whanau/family, then it has been a success,” adds Melissa McGregor.

The most common symptoms of lung cancer are:4

a cough that does not go away
hoarseness or loss of voice
repeated bouts of pneumonia or bronchitis
shortness of breath or increased breathlessness
noisy breathing
pain in the chest, upper back or ribs
coughing up blood
low energy levels
neck and arm swelling and swollen veins
Having any of these symptoms does not necessarily mean you have cancer but it is important to get your doctor to check you out.

Ends

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