In 2020, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in Australia, with an estimated 9,173 deaths from this disease.1 Early diagnosis improves survival, with patients diagnosed at stage I having a 68% five-year survival rate compared to only 3% survival for patients diagnosed at stage IV.1,2 Vague and non-specific symptoms can lead to delays in diagnosis and treatment, and the smoking-related stigma surrounding lung cancer can contribute to delays in help-seeking and psychological distress in patients.
Cancer Australia undertook a systematic, evidence-based approach to develop Investigating symptoms of lung cancer: a guide for all health professionals (the Guide) to assist health professionals investigate symptomatic people with suspected lung cancer and support their early and rapid referral into the multidisciplinary diagnostic pathway. A multidisciplinary Expert Reference Group oversaw the Guide’s development, and clinical colleges, consumer bodies and individual clinicians provided expert input through external consultation. Twelve organisations have endorsed the Guide.
To promote the reach, uptake and utility of the Guide, Cancer Australia is developing educational materials for health professionals through webinar, face-to-face and online learning channels. These activities promote the Guide’s key messages, including symptoms, signs and risk factors of lung cancer; optimal timeframes for investigation and referral; the importance of multidisciplinary care; and how smoking-related stigma can cause delays in diagnosis. Messaging also emphasises the need for health professionals to remain alert to the symptoms and signs of lung cancer in patients presenting with respiratory symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Education is central to raising awareness of the issues contributing to delays in lung cancer diagnosis. The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded delays in the diagnosis of cancer. As health professionals are critical to early diagnosis, widespread adoption of the Guide may improve outcomes for people affected by lung cancer, particularly during the pandemic.