TV presenter Jonnie Irwin has revealed he has terminal cancer, which started in his lungs and has now spread to his brain.
Channel 4’s host A place in the sun and that of the BBC Escape to the country said in a new interview that he doesn’t know “how long I have to live”.
He first became aware that something was wrong when he experienced blurry vision while driving in August 2020. After he came home from filming A place in the sunhe was given “six months to live”.
November marks Lung Cancer Awareness Month – a disease many of us think we know the main causes and symptoms of.
However, there are still some misconceptions about lung cancer – it’s not necessarily just a case of a ‘smoker’s disease’.
We speak with lung cancer experts to debunk the myths, so you have all the information you need…
Myth 1: Lung cancer only affects older people
According to John Costello, pulmonologist at the Mayo Clinic (mayoclinichealthcare.co.uk), “Lung cancer is definitely more common in older people – the average age of diagnosis is 70 years. However, this may simply be a reflection of longer exposure to tobacco smoke.”
This doesn’t mean you only get it when you’re old. According to Lisa Jacques, specialist cancer nurse at Perci Health (percihealth.com), “Most people develop lung cancer in their 60s or 70s, after many years of smoking, but occasionally people develop lung cancer at a much younger age, even in their 20s and 30 years.”
Myth 2: Lung cancer is always caused by smoking
While smoking can increase your chances of developing lung cancer, it’s not the only cause.
“Smoking is the cause of most lung cancers and the biggest risk factor, but about 10% of people who develop lung cancer have never smoked,” explains Jacques.
Costello adds, “Some lung cancers are hereditary and may not be related to smoking, and others are caused by exposure to substances such as asbestos, radon gas and second-hand smoke” — though he says these are “relatively uncommon.”
Myth 3: You can’t reverse lung damage from smoking
“Some of the damage and inflammation caused by smoking may be reversible, but emphysema, specifically, is architectural destruction of the lung that causes extreme shortness of breath and cannot be reversed,” says Costello.
So quitting smoking can reduce your risk, but not starting at all is much better.
Myth 4: Lung cancer always kills
A lung cancer diagnosis doesn’t mean certain death, but it’s still serious.
“Lung cancer has a 60 percent five-year survival rate in people with localized disease,” says Costello. “If it has spread throughout the body at the time of diagnosis, the survival rate is only eight percent.”
However, he says there are “new techniques in lung cancer screening, such as CT scans in smokers over age 50 with a serious tobacco background.” These “can pick up very small early tumors, which can be removed with an 80-90 percent five-year survival rate.”
So if you’re concerned about a persistent cough, see your GP and get it checked out as soon as possible.
Myth 5: Women don’t have to worry about lung cancer as much as other types
According to Cancer Research UK, men are more likely to get cancer than women (52 percent of lung cancer cases are men, compared to 48 percent of women). However, these margins are small and women should definitely be aware of lung cancer.
“Lung cancer has been an increasing problem in women since they overtook men in smoking habits, which is why they are at risk if they smoke,” says Costello. “Some non-smoking-related lung cancers are more common in women.”
Adds Jacques: “It is the third most common cancer in the UK and in women it is the second most common type of cancer.”
So whether you smoke or not, keep an eye out for the symptoms of lung cancer – such as a cough that lasts more than two or three weeks, recurring respiratory infections, shortness of breath or pain when breathing – and talk to your doctor if you’re concerned.