Spotting signs of the ‘hidden killer’ cancer

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It’s a ‘hidden killer’ which is often not picked up until it is advanced.

Jackie Knowles counts herself lucky that hers was found relatively early.

Nine years ago the GP from Hebden Bridge overcame cervical cancer but in April was told a 5cm mass had been found in her right lung. Two weeks later, it was confirmed as cancer.

“My life went into freefall,” she said. “Here I was at the age of 46, a non-smoking vegetarian, mother of two girls aged 10 and 12, dealing with cancer for the second time in my life.”

Jackie was only diagnosed because she underwent a kidney scan after blood was found in her urine. She had none of the usual symptoms – cough, shortness of breath and tiredness.

“I racked my brain to think if I had had any symptoms I had missed – nothing,” she added.

She was referred to St James’s Hospital in Leeds for treatment but beforehand researched to look for anything which could improve her outcome.

There she found details of a clinical trial looking at shrinking tumours before surgery and was accepted to take part. Despite struggling with side effects, she stayed on the trial drug until her operation in July.

“It was a very frightening time but also by this time I was desperate to have my tumour – whom we had named Frank – removed. The operation was done through keyhole surgery as the tumour had shrunk so much, something the surgeon was not expecting.”

Four months after the major operation, she is now able to do longer walks, go swimming and is feeling better. Jackie also had chemotherapy to reduce the chance of the disease returning, which has just finished.

She said she was fortunate that her cancer was picked up before it had spread, but even so the five year survival statistics are still only around 50 per cent.

“It has also taught me how poorly-funded lung cancer research seems to be compared with other cancers.

“The association with smoking seems to make people shy away from it almost saying ‘it’s your fault’. However we don’t know why people like me get it and we don’t know why it only affects some smokers and why it is so aggressive in many.

“I want to make people more aware of this awful disease and hopefully improve research into it allowing it to be diagnosed earlier. I still wake up in a cold sweat wondering when symptoms may have developed in myself and how far spread it might have been by then.”

She also wants to encourage patients to look up information and take control during treatment: “Use it and don’t be afraid to ask questions.”

* Support for lung cancer patients and their carers is available through a group in Leeds.

The group usually meets on the first Monday of the month, apart from bank holidays when it is the second Monday at the Sir Robert Ogden Centre Macmillan Centre, on the St James Hospital site. It allows patients to meet those in similar situations and to find out information from medical professionals,

The next meeting will be on January 9, call 0113 2066499 for information.

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