Charity says lung cancer referrals have fallen by 27% due to Covid-19

by Rachel Darcy

The Irish Cancer Society has said that ‘symptom confusion’ and fear of accessing health care could have led up to 244 patients with suspected lung cancer symptoms from seeking medical advice.

According to the charity, individuals with suspected lung cancer symptoms did not present to their GP and weren’t referred to specialist cancer clinics at the height of the pandemic, between March and August.

The figures come as the Irish Cancer Society launch a new campaign with former X-Factor contestant Mary Byrne, to raise public awareness of lung cancer symptoms.

GP referrals to specialist cancer services fell 27% compared to the same period as last year, with the new campaign warning that ‘Your Cough Could Be Masking Something Else’.

The 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.

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, who is Cancer Prevention Manager at the Irish Cancer Society.

O’Hagan said: “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.”

Picture: Andres Poveda

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.

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.

Singer Mary Byrne is personally affected by lung cancer, after family members sadly passed away from the disease.

Byrne said: “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.”

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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