TV presenter Jonnie Irwin has revealed he has terminal cancer which started in his lungs and has now spread to his brain.
Channel 4 host A place in the sun and the BBC Escape to the country he said in a new interview that he doesn’t know “how long” I have left to live.
He first realized something was wrong when he experienced blurred vision while driving in August 2020. After returning home from filming A place in the sunhe was given “six months to live”.
November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month – a disease that many of us think we know the main causes and symptoms of.
However, there are still some misconceptions about lung cancer – it is not necessarily just a ‘smoker’s disease’.
We speak to 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, a pulmonologist at the Mayo Clinic (mayoclinichealthcare.co.uk), “Lung cancer is certainly more common in older people – the average age of diagnosis is 70 years. However, this may just reflect longer exposure to tobacco smoke.
That doesn’t mean you only get it if you’re old. According to Lisa Jacques, chief cancer specialist at Perci Health (percihealth.com), “Most people develop lung cancer in their 60s and 70s after many years of smoking, but occasionally people develop lung cancer at a much younger age, even in their 20s and 30s.”
Myth 2: Lung cancer is always caused by smoking
Although smoking can increase your chances of developing lung cancer, it is not the only cause.
“Smoking is the cause of most lung cancer and is the biggest risk factor, but about 10% of people who get lung cancer have never smoked,” explains Jacques.
Costello adds: “There are some lung cancers that are genetic and may not be related to smoking, and some others are caused by exposure to substances such as asbestos, radon gas and second-hand smoke” – although he says they are “relatively uncommon”.
Myth 3: You can’t reverse lung damage from smoking
“Some of the damage and inflammation caused by smoking can be reversible, but emphysema in particular is an architectural destruction of the lungs that causes extreme shortness of breath and cannot be reversed,” says Costello.
So quitting smoking can lower your risk – but not starting at all is much better.
Myth 4: Lung cancer is always fatal
A diagnosis of lung cancer does not mean certain death, but it is serious nonetheless.
“Lung cancer has a 60% five-year survival rate for 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.”
But he says there are “new techniques in lung cancer screening, such as CT scans in smokers over 50 with a heavy tobacco background.” These “can pick up very small early tumors that can be removed with up to an 80-90% five-year survival rate”.
So if you’re worried 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 develop cancer than women (52 per cent of lung cancer cases are in men compared to 48 per cent in women). However, these margins are small and women absolutely need to be aware of lung cancer.
“Lung cancer is an increasing problem in women because they have caught up with men in terms of smoking, so they are at risk if they smoke,” says Costello. “Some of the non-smoking lung cancers are more common in women.”
Jacques adds: “It is the third most common cancer in the UK and the second most common cancer in women.”
So, whether you smoke or not, look out for lung cancer symptoms – such as a cough lasting more than two or three weeks, recurrent chest infections, shortness of breath or pain when breathing – and see your GP if you have any concerns.