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Disease of the month

In case you missed it, 1 November marked the beginning of Lung Cancer Awareness Month. They’ll be telling us that you can get cancer of the stomach next. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a single organ in the whole body that you couldn’t get cancer of. Cancer of the kneecap, cancer of the hair, cancer of the thingy that hangs down between the tonsils. Who’d have thought it? Cancer of the lung. Stone me.

How I missed that particular lecture at medical school, I’ll never know. However, all is not lost. A non-randomised straw poll around the receptionists this lunchtime provided some interesting raw data I might spend an hour or two trying to interpret if and when hell actually freezes over, all the porn sites on the internet are shut down and I’ve arranged the cornflakes in the larder in order of increasing surface area.

Preliminary number and cornflake crunching revealed that every single one of them had actually heard of this virtually unknown ‘lung cancer’. Many of them even thought that they knew what caused it: smoking, exposure to asbestos and, according to one menopausal, Daily Mail-reading telephonist, HRT. She’s a slave to her hot flushes, poor thing.

So it seems that everybody in the world is already au fait with this ‘lung cancer’ chappie, which can only be a glowing testament to the success of Lung Cancer Awareness Month 2010. Not to mention Lung Cancer Awareness Month 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005 and 2004.

It must be terribly hard for consciousness-raising groups to deal with the likes of us. Every November they take off their ‘Save the dolphin’ T-shirts, put on sweatshirts publicising the existence of ‘lung cancer’ for four long weeks, then – bugger me – 11 months later we’ll all have forgotten that it ever existed and they’ll have to start all over again.

Mark my words, during December any and every patient who presents with a 40-a-day smoking habit, unintentional weight loss and a painful cough with bloodstained phlegm will be sent off to see a specialist for urgent investigation in case they have ‘lung cancer’, but by April, as sure as Easter eggs are eggs, the same patient will be sent home with a cheery wave, a bottle of cough jollop and a couple of Hall’s Mentho-lyptus out of the sweetie jar on the consulting room desk. Memories like goldfish, that’s GPs for you.

You might argue that awareness days, weeks and months aren’t aimed at health professionals, but at the general public. That way lies madness. Those at highest risk are forever in denial – those at no perceptible risk are already camped out in our waiting rooms. Anyway, by the time you read this, the ‘lung cancer’ sweatshirts will have been discarded in favour of hoodies publicising Road Safety Week.

And as we’re all aware, not only does driving while smoking double your chances of having an accident, it very probably puts your passengers at increased risk of getting, er, that thing in the lung. Whatsitsname... oh, you know. Hang on, it’s on the tip of my... no, it’s gone again.

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex