One person who knows all too well how important early detection of lung cancer can be is Marilyn Nelson, a Brisbane woman who was first diagnosed seven years ago by accident.
“The doctor had sent me for some scans for a totally different issue, and when they came back he said, ‘I’m very sorry, but you have lung cancer’,” she said.
“It was totally bizarre, it just came out of the blue and I sort of shut down for a bit. I was stunned.”
Marilyn’s cancer was only in its very early stages and was able to be treated with chemotherapy and surgery.
It came back after the initial treatment, and while she is not in remission, Marilyn has been keeping the cancer at bay with ongoing chemotherapy and immunotherapy.
The 68-year-old believes the only reason she is alive is because the cancer was caught early.
“In the current pandemic, you understand that people say, ‘Oh well, my problem isn’t as bad as coronavirus so I’ll just wait it out’, but you don’t want to wait out lung cancer,” she said.
“I think a lot of people have been putting it off, and it’s going to be costly. Just get tested.”
Lung cancer is Australia’s deadliest cancer, accounting for 20 per cent of all invasive cancer deaths in 2015, compared to the next most lethal cancer, colorectal, on 12 per cent, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics figures.
In Marilyn’s case, despite not knowing she had lung cancer, she remembers having a persistent cough in the months leading up to the diagnosis.
The Lung Foundation is launching a new campaign on Thursday to tell people to be aware of any persistent cough as it could be a sign of a much bigger problem.
Mark Brooke, chief executive of Lung Foundation Australia, said if people had been putting off going to see their GP because they were concerned about coronavirus, they needed to make an appointment as soon as possible.
“It’s clear that over the past six months, people haven’t been visiting their GP and could have missed out on a crucial diagnosis,” Mr Brooke said.
“So we really want to get the word out that a persistent cough that lasts for more than three weeks is a concern and is something you should get checked with your GP, because it may be a sign of something much more serious.”
Stuart Layt covers health, science and technology for the Brisbane Times. He was formerly the Queensland political reporter for AAP.