Published Sat, 2010-11-20 15:12; updated 4 years ago.

 A special support group at a Birmingham hospital is celebrating 10 years of trying to end the “stigma” of lung cancer.

Heartlands Hospital has been playing host to its lung cancer support group for a decade – a milestone it has just marked with a birthday party held at the Botanical Gardens in Edgbaston.

The vital service, which has worked with hundreds of cancer patients and carers over the last 10 years, is now taking advantage of Lung Cancer Awareness Month  th   to further highlight a disease that claims the lives of more than 33,500 people in the UK every year.

The awareness month, which runs throughout November, is promoted annually by a coalition of charities, including the British Lung Foundation.

Heartlands Hospital’s lung cancer support group is marking the awareness month by putting up posters around the hospital and holding fundraising book sales. They are also planning a stand at Touchwood shopping centre in Solihull.

Denise Silvey, lung cancer nurse specialist at Heartlands, said lung cancer often missed out in terms of publicity when compared to other, more high profile, diseases.

“There is a stigma attached to lung cancer because of the link with smoking, which I think is sad because a lot of our patients gave up smoking years ago.

“Around 90% of lung cancers are caused by smoking, but half of the patients we see are ex-smokers. The risk is reduced the sooner you give up but it never entirely goes away.”

Denise said the message she hoped to promote during Lung Cancer Awareness Month was that “early diagnosis saves lives”.

She added: “Just don’t sit on your symptoms.

“Go to your GP as soon as you develop symptoms, such as if you’ve had a cough for more than three weeks. Go and ask for a chest x-ray.

“The five year survival rate for people with lung cancer remains at less than 10%, and that hasn’t changed in recent years.
“The problem is that people present their symptoms too late, and that’s something we have to tackle.

“If we are going to make a difference for lung cancer survival rates then we have to raise awareness through the use of education. Early diagnosis saves lives.”

The Heartlands Hospital support group is run on behalf of the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation which is named after the much-loved entertainer who died from the disease in 1994.

The charity, which aims to promote an intensive research programme into the causes, prevention and management of the disease, as well as support patients and their families during their illness, was originally founded as the Lung Cancer Fund in 1990 but changed its name after Roy Castle’s death.

Added Denise: “When I first started here I set up the lung cancer group and, because of the stigma, people said it would be good if we got in touch with other organisations.

“So I contacted the Roy Castle Foundation to see about getting involved with them.

“They now have a list of our patients and send them reminders about our monthly meetings and speakers, and also help with fundraising. We wanted to do a bit of collecting in Solihull town centre and they have contacted the local council for us.”

The support group regularly gets 15-20 lung cancer patients at its meetings, which take place in the education centre at Heartlands on the first Tuesday of every month, between 2pm and 4pm.

“People come and go, but some have been coming for 5 or 6 years. We also get partners of patients come to give us their support.

“Because we run it, there’s always a nurse specialist there for people to talk to, such as if they’ve had surgery and are concerned about their cancer coming back.

“They share our passion about raising awareness of lung cancer,” Denise concluded.