Knowing lung cancer symptoms boosts visits to doctor

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People at high risk of lung cancer are 40 percent more likely to see a doctor when they get help identifying and monitoring their symptoms, a new study shows.

Lung cancer is the most common cancer worldwide, with 1.3 million new diagnoses every year. It has one of the lowest survival outcomes of any cancer because more than two-thirds of patients receive a diagnosis too late for curative treatment.

Increasing early recognition and earlier diagnosis is vital to improve patient outcomes, researchers say. Behavioral interventions in primary care could play an important role.

For the study, which appears in Thorax, people at increased risk of lung cancer due to heavy smoking attended a consultation with a nurse to discuss respiratory symptoms to look out for, and what to do if they had any concerns. Symptoms included: coughing up blood, persistent or worsening cough, becoming shorter of breath, and long-standing chest or shoulder pain.

The control group received no additional information about their respiratory symptoms.

Patients in the randomized controlled trial who received the additional information were 40 percent more likely to visit their doctor about respiratory symptoms over the following year than patients who did not receive a consultation.

“A behavioral intervention like this can significantly increase consulting for respiratory symptoms in patients at increased risk of lung cancer, providing more opportunities for doctors to identify and diagnose lung cancer earlier in these high-risk patients,” says lead author Jon Emery, professor at the University of Melbourne Centre for Cancer Research.

“GPs arming patients with more information could have an important role in primary care as part of a broader approach to improve respiratory health in patients at higher risk.”

Although the study—the largest trial to date to test a tailored behavioral approach to reduce the delay in diagnosis for lung cancer—significantly increased respiratory consultation rates in the study population, without causing psychological harm, it did not significantly reduce the time that patients made a first appointment, researchers say.

“This targeted approach could be an alternative to mass-media symptom awareness campaigns and support early intervention to improve respiratory health in long-term smokers in primary care,” Emery says.

Additional researchers are from the University of Western Australia.

Source: University of Melbourne