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Lung Cancer Awareness Month

North East lung cancer patient speaks out to raise awareness of the disease during national awareness month...

A recovering lung cancer patient from County Durham is sharing his story as part Lung Cancer Awareness Month to highlight the importance of recognising the warning signs of the disease and getting early detection.

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. It was launched by the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation working in partnership with Macmillan Cancer Support.

In the North East around 7,500 people are admitted to hospital with lung cancer each year, in the north of the county there are 200 new diagnoses of lung cancer every year and around 2160 people in the region die from the disease.

Alex Dixon, 75 from Church Kelloe in Durham, was diagnosed with lung cancer in September last year after visiting his GP with a persistent cough and following subsequent tests at University Hospital of North Durham. Thanks to early detection and a successful a course of chemotherapy and radiotherapy Alex is now in remission.

He said: "I had a cough that wouldn't go away so I visited my GP who at first prescribed some antibiotics but when that didn't clear it I was sent for an urgent x-ray and that's when the diagnosis was made. It was initially a shock and I did suffer a fit of depression for about a month but once I started the chemotherapy I started to recover myself. I was helped a great deal by such a dedicated chemo team at the hospital in Durham, they always had a good sense of humour which helped me through. I had a course of both chemotherapy and radiotherapy and I'm pleased to say that I'm pretty much back to my old self now. I'm back to an active lifestyle and doing jobs again around the house. You've got to have a determined attitude, I thought there's no way I'm going to let a silly old thing like cancer get me down. And with excellent diagnosis, wonderful nursing, help from the McMillan support service and a dedicated wife to help keep me fit I'm now in remission. My advice to anyone who is suffering from a persistent cough, that they just can't seem to get rid of, would be to go to the GP as soon as possible, it might be nothing but if it does turn out to be lung cancer then the earlier you get diagnosed and treated then, like me, the better chance you have."

Alex had smoked on and off when he was younger but gave up almost 12 years ago and says he now 'can't bear it'. He continued: "I wouldn't ever want to start again now, it's an awful habit. As well as the more serious health effects it also destroys your sense of smell and taste."

Smoking directly causes almost 90 per cent of all male lung cancers and 83 per cent of all female lung cancers.

Research has shown that current smokers are 15 times more likely to die from lung cancer than life-long non-smokers, while the risk of developing lung cancer is affected by level of consumption and duration of smoking.

The good news is that lung cancer incidence rates have decreased in the UK in line with the decline in smoking since World War II. The North East also saw the biggest regional drop in people smoking between 2005-2008.

Joanne Scorer, McMillan Nurse at County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust said: "Once patients receive a diagnosis of lung cancer they feel their lives have been turned upside down. Feelings of uncertainty of the future and the unknown are very common. As Macmillan Lung Cancer Nurse Specialists our main role is to support these patients and relatives through a difficult and often challenging journey. Lung Cancer Awareness highlights the signs and symptoms of the disease which leads to an earlier diagnosis thus improving the chance of a positive result."

'As I was very, very nervous, I must have been the worst patient ever and they were brilliant with me and I can't thank them enough - could you please pass on my sincere thanks.'

Patient, Hysteroscopy Unit, Chester-le-Street Community Hospital