Just one in 10 people realise that a persistent cough could be a key symptom of lung cancer, according to statistics released by the government as it launches a campaign to raise awareness about the disease.
Despite the condition killing more people than any other form of cancer in England, very few people are aware a cough lasting three weeks is a sign of a potential sufferer.
An advertising drive backed by Ricky Gervais and Lynda Bellingham has been launched in a bid to raise awareness about the issue and improve earlier diagnosis in England.
It is hoped Be Clear on Cancer campaign will help save around 1,300 lives a year.
Health minister Paul Burstow said: “Lung cancer is the biggest cancer killer in this country but worryingly many people don’t know the signs and symptoms that could save their lives.
“The earlier lung cancer is diagnosed, the better the chance of survival.
“The message from this campaign is simple; if you have a persistent cough for three weeks or more, visit your GP.”
Lung cancer affects 33,000 people every year in England with the majority of cases occurring in people over the age of 55.
When diagnosed at its earliest stage, as many as 80% of people are alive five years after diagnosis compared with only seven per cent diagnosed at a late stage.
Professor Sir Mike Richards, National Cancer Director for England, said: “It is vital that cancer patients get treated quickly so they have the best chance of surviving. We have made early diagnosis central to our Cancer Outcomes Strategy.
“Earlier diagnosis of Lung Cancer combined with the best treatments could help save an additional 1,300 lives a year.”
Paula Chadwick, chief executive of the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, added: “We really hope people will begin to associate a persistent cough as a symptom of lung cancer, the way they associate a lump as a symptom of breast or testicular cancer.”