The finding is contained in a new survey by the Irish Cancer Society (ICS) which also found that one third of smokers are afraid to go to the doctor for fear of what they might be told.
Kevin O’Hagan, cancer prevention manager at the Irish Cancer Society, said that there was a “kind of fatalism” among smokers in their attitudes to lung cancer.
“It’s such a negative place to go in their head that there could be an element of denial, of ‘it won’t happen to me, it’s only a cough’,” he said.
Mr O’Hagan said there was a certain ‘don’t want to know’ attitude among smokers, particularly if they have had the habit so long that a cough seems like an almost natural side effect, so ‘what’s the point in drawing any more attention to it’.
More than three quarters of the 1,000 adults who took part in the ICS study said they had never had a conversation with their doctor or pharmacist on the topic of lung health. More than half (54%) said they would not go to their doctor if they had one or more symptoms of lung cancer because of obstacles such as cost (17%), because they didn’t think it was serious enough (19%), and fear (22%). This fear rose to 32% among smokers. Fewer than half (46%) said nothing would stop them going to their doctor if they were had symptoms of lung cancer.
Despite this ambivalence to lung cancer, the disease continues to increase with 2,312 people diagnosed in Ireland in 2012. While the incidence in men is decreasing every year by 1%, lung cancer in women continues to increase at a significant rate of 2% each year.
Mr O’Hagan said while there had been improvements in survival rates for other cancers, they hadn’t improved significantly in relation to lung cancer. He said the ICS planned to “look deeper into people’s attitudes” in relation to lung cancer. “We need to talk to lung cancer patients and see what is preventing them from seeking help,” he said.
Lung cancer can be treated once it is diagnosed at an early stage but unfortunately too many people don’t go to their doctor at a time when it would be most beneficial for them, Mr O’Hagan said.
Lung cancer symptoms include a persistent cough; shortness of breath or wheezing, blood-stained phlegm, repeated chest infections, tiredness, weight loss, and a hoarse voice.
Mr O’Hagan said they were inviting members of the public “to take our online lung health checker” available at www. cancer.ie/lung.
“This will help you consider your lung health and to examine symptoms you may be experiencing. We want Irish people to take action and this is a simple way to do so,” he said.
The survey findings were launched to coincide with the start of the society’s Lung Cancer Awareness Campaign.
- ICS Cancer Nurseline:1800 200 700.
- Up to 95% of lung cancers are due to smoking.
- Smokers looking to quit smoking can call the HSE Quit Team on Freephone 1800 201 203 or Freetext QUIT to 50100. Visit www.quit.ie where support is available from smoking cessation counsellors.