Calls to raise lung cancer awareness


Lung cancer claims five times more lives than melanoma in New Zealand each year, but a new charity says it's not getting the attention it deserves.

Lung Foundation New Zealand launched today and it hopes better awareness and new drugs will help improve survival rates.

Two years Otago University lecturer and father of two John Ashton was diagnosed with the most advanced form of lung cancer.

But he was suitable for a new breakthrough ALK inhibitor drug called Crizotinib. Within nine days he had stopped coughing.

Like Dr Ashton, one-in-ten sufferers of lung cancer are non-smokers.

Lung cancer kills 1600 Kiwis each year. There's a five-year survival rate of 10 percent and a seven percent rate for Maori. This compares to 12-16 percent survival rate in the US and Australia.

Lung Foundation New Zealand wants to change that and Australian pulmonologist Lucy Morgan says awareness is key.

"Just raising awareness of the importance of getting a cough investigated if it's been going on for a long period of time has made a big difference in Australia," she says.

"Probably the thing that helps the most is to recognise the disease when it's earlier and less advanced," says Chris Atkinson, medical director of Lung Foundation NZ. "And yes we do want to access innovative therapies much faster."

Therapies like Crizotinib, which gave Dr Ashton back the life he almost lost.

"I'm doing fine now," he says. "I'm running 10kms and I'm hoping to do a half-marathon in the near future."

Crizotinib is already funded in Australian and Dr Ashton hopes it could help others here.

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