05 Oct 2022

Lung cancer referrals fell by more than 25% during Covid-19 pandemic

Lung cancer referrals fell by more than 25% during Covid-19 pandemic

According to the Irish Cancer Society, potentially 244 patients with suspected lung cancer symptoms had not presented to their GP and were not referred to specialist cancer clinics during the height of the pandemic with referrals for lung cancer services showing a 27% decrease between March and August this year compared to the same period last year.

Against the backdrop of this significant decline in referrals for lung cancer services, the Irish Cancer Society has launched a lung cancer awareness campaign, ‘Your Cough Could Be Masking Something Else’.

Supported by AstraZeneca and Bristol Myers Squibb, the Irish Cancer Society’s campaign is designed to encourage people with a persistent cough to contact their GP, with a view to receiving a referral, or visit or contact the Cancer Support Line on Freephone 1800 200 700 for support. 

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in Ireland for men and women - it accounts for 19% of all cancer deaths in women and 23% of deaths in men. A significant majority of people (70%) diagnosed with lung cancer in Ireland are diagnosed at a late stage (stages 3 and 4).

More than 2,500 men and women in Ireland receive a lung cancer diagnosis annually, and unfortunately, more than 1,800 men and women will die from this largely preventable cancer every year.

An increase in referrals could see a greater number of lung cancers diagnosed earlier and provide patients with a real chance of a cure, according to Kevin O’Hagan, Cancer Prevention Manager, the Irish Cancer Society.

“The pandemic has made us all aware of coughing as it could be a symptom of Covid-19. However, it is important to remember that a persistent cough is also a symptom of lung cancer; like Covid-19, it is important to get it checked out straight away, irrespective of your age or existing health conditions. Early detection of lung cancer is vital and allows for greater treatment options and a real chance of a cure.”

Singer Mary Byrne, whose brother-in-law, Liam, and two sisters-in-law, Geraldine and Kathleen, sadly passed away from lung cancer, is supporting the campaign. 

“This campaign is very close to my heart as three of my close family members passed away from lung cancer in the last nine years; my brother-in-law, Liam, and my two sisters-in-law, Geraldine and Kathleen. 

“If their cancers had been diagnosed earlier they could have had more treatment options and a greater chance of survival. Because of what happened to them I get regular check-ups. My sisters-in-law were in their sixties when they were diagnosed. I’m 61 this year and I hope to be around until I’m at least in my 80s for my daughter and for myself. 

“I’ve lost six and a half stone and quit smoking and the motivation for this is all down to losing family members so young. I’m at a stage where I need to look after me. If I feel something is wrong, I will contact my GP. Even though Covid-19 is here and that makes me nervous, my GP has told me ‘you contact me no matter what way you feel’, so I do. It’s not just you this affects, it’s your whole family.

“Your lungs matter and a persistent cough could be masking something else. Even if you can’t tell the difference, an early diagnosis can make all the difference. Don’t delay in contacting your GP for an early diagnosis,” Mary added.

Dr Una Kennedy, General Practitioner and GP advisor with the NCCP, said; “I understand that some patients with health concerns may be reluctant to contact their GPs due to Covid-19. However, I want to reassure patients who have any new symptoms, particularly those with a persistent cough, that it is important to contact your doctor as soon as possible. 

“I’d also like to reassure the public that lung cancer services are also open and safe to use. Remember, early detection of lung cancer is crucial and leads to improved treatment options and outcomes so please, don’t delay in contacting your GP if you’re worried that you or a loved one may be experiencing symptoms.”   

The Irish Cancer Society’s ‘Your cough could be masking something else’ campaign is supported by AstraZeneca and Bristol Myers Squibb, and is encouraging everyone to be lung aware this September and get to know the signs and symptoms of lung cancer. Visit to do a free online lung health check or contact the Cancer Support Line on Freephone 1800 200 700 for more information.

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