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Lung Cancer Awareness Month: Signs, symptoms and inequalities

To mark the start of Lung Cancer Awareness month on 1 November 2023, we were able to join the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, Humber and North Yorkshire Cancer Alliance and a giant pair of inflatable lungs in a shopping centre in Hull

The display was not what you would normally see in a shopping centre in Hull but on a serious note provided a stark reminder that around 48,000 people are still diagnosed with lung cancer every year and the outcomes for people are sadly very poor with approximately 35,000 deaths every year. 

Smoking, ethnicity, social-economic variations, access to screening and an understanding of the signs and symptoms of cancer are all still common barriers to seeking help and can often be reasons for such poor outcomes for people diagnosed with lung cancer. 

Signs and symptoms and what everyone needs to know

The main symptoms of lung cancer include the following:

  • A cough for three weeks or more;
  • Repeated chest infections;
  • Coughing up blood;
  • Aches or pains when breathing or coughing;
  • Persistent breathlessness/fatigue; and
  • Weight loss and loss of appetite 

These symptoms can also often be attributed to other respiratory diseases and it is therefore always important to seek advice from your GP or another healthcare professional without delay.

Unfortunately, many people will dismiss these signs and symptoms and, in the course of our work, we often support loved ones who have received a diagnosis of lung cancer once it's too late. 

Inequalities in lung cancer diagnosis 

In 2020, Cancer Research UK stated that “more than 30,000 extra cases of cancer in the UK each year are attributable to socio-economic variation and survival is worse for the most deprived groups.”

Most cancers are also diagnosed or suspected in the primary care environment, and the impact of a delay in diagnosis and treatment can hugely impact the chances of survival and highlights the importance of ensuring there are no inequalities in cancer diagnosis due to ethnicity, poverty, gender, and geographical region. Issues in relation to literacy and language barriers, access to transport and the cost of living crisis are still difficult to overcome, and it's important to keep working together to identify new solutions to ensure all people seek medical professional support at the earliest stage possible. 

Recently, people have raised the issue that the age bracket for lung cancer screening may be a form of discrimination because people over the age of 74 are not included.  It's also recognised that there will always be challenges in the delivery of cancer services. 

My colleague Rachelle Mahapatra, a partner in our medical negligence team, shared with me her experiences of representing clients who approached their general practitioner with concerns about their health but no action was taken to investigate those symptoms earlier. It's important that, if you're concerned about unusual symptoms, you speak to your GP and the matter is investigated.  If your symptoms persist, then it's always important to return for further follow up, ensuring that your GP is aware of persisting symptoms or changes in those symptoms, to avoid a delay in referral and treatment.


Last year, targeted lung cancer screening was implemented in a number of regions and more than one million people have now been invited for a targeted lung health check.

This is very positive news but more still has to be done to increase the current uptake rate of 40%. 

I personally feel we all need to continue to raise awareness of the fact that these checks can help to ensure that 75% of people diagnosed with lung cancer, after attending a screening check, will be diagnosed at stage one or two and be eligible for treatment when curative therapy remains an option. 

In addition, the incidental findings of colorectal cancer, breast cancer, urological cancers, haematological cancers and interstitial lung diseases provides even more reassurance that people are likely to have better outcomes for cancers or lung diseases due to the screening and health checks.

Our client Rose Hall was diagnosed with mesothelioma following a lung health check in Leeds and despite her initial shock at the diagnosis is grateful to have attended the screening and have found out about the diagnosis as early as possible to consider her treatment options. 

How we can help

At Irwin Mitchell, we regularly support clients with asbestos and other work-related lung cancers, including pleural mesothelioma which develops in the linings of the lungs, and it's widely accepted that lung cancer can be caused by exposure to asbestos dust and other harmful substances such as arsenic fumes, silica dust and nickel. 

If you have any concerns about whether or not your lung cancer was caused by your working conditions, it's always best to discuss this with your GP and respiratory healthcare professional and also seek advice from a specialist solicitor in order to assist in investigating your diagnosis and the probable cause.

Most importantly, I would also always encourage people to reach out if they have any signs or symptoms of lung cancer and always attend a targeted lung health check screening assessment if invited for one. 

Many clients often share their diagnosis story with me and it's often the small changes that they noticed in their breathing or daily activities that have inevitably resulted in the big difference that an early diagnosis can bring. 

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting people and families affected by lung cancer at our dedicated section on the website.