Campaigns: Health & Education - CRC spreads message on lung cancer

Client: Cancer Research Campaign

Client: Cancer Research Campaign

PR Team: In-house

Campaign: Lung cancer now the biggest killer

Timescale: 22 September - ongoing

Budget: Undisclosed

Breast cancer awareness among British women has increased considerably over the last few years, thanks in no small measure to campaigns run by Cancer Research Campaign. This awareness has helped reduce deaths from breast cancer by five per cent over the last 20 years.

By comparison to breast cancer, lung cancer has been an almost invisible disease, with little public attention paid to it.

But a chance conversation on 21 September between CRC director of communications and information Susan Osborne and a statistician flagged up the fact that lung cancer had overtaken breast cancer as the main cause of deaths from cancer in British women.

In Britain, 12,765 women died from lung cancer in 1999, compared to 12,677 from breast cancer. It is disturbing to note that female deaths from lung cancer have increased by 36 per cent in the last 20 years.


To rapidly create awareness of the fact that lung cancer is now the biggest-killing cancer of women in Britain, without detracting from the good work that has been done on breast cancer.

Strategy and Plan

Armed with the statistics about lung cancer, Osborne approached CRC director general Professor Gordon McVie and suggested it would be timely to mount a campaign on the disease. CRC had already arranged a meeting with junior health secretary Yvette Cooper at the Labour Party conference in Brighton that weekend and McVie agreed it would be a suitable time to air the issue.

Speed was of the essence if the story was to have maximum impact. Osborne and her team worked frantically on 22 September to compile a press release, alert journalists about the story, and schedule meetings and interviews at the Labour conference.

Leading health journalists were on their way to a week-long conference on cancer in Brussels so they had to be briefed before they went, with an embargo placed on the story until 25 September (after the ministerial meeting).

Cooper gave her support to the initiative right away, and after the meeting Osborne and McVie were able to carry out numerous interviews with TV and radio crews attending the conference. Osborne admits that because the broadcast media were already there in force, getting interviews was almost 'effortless'. The press release on lung cancer was sent to all national and regional media. Statistics were also provided. With its huge patient database, CRC could assist any media that wanted to follow up the human interest angle of the story.

Measurement and Evaluation

There was blanket coverage of the story in print and broadcast media on 25 September. BBC TV news took the rare step of running the story on all four of its main news bulletins. Coverage continued on 26 and 27 September as the media pursued human interest stories. The Daily Mail, for example, ran a centre page spread in which women of different ages talked about their smoking habits. Regional coverage and statistics on coverage were still coming in as PR Week went to press.

As the story hit the head-lines, CRC's freephone helpline - 0800 CANCER - was inundated with calls. CRC shops were also kept busy fulfilling requests for leaflets on lung cancer.


Breast Cancer Awareness Month will run throughout this month. CRC is now considering whether to run a similar regular awareness month for lung cancer. In the meantime statistics on Northern Ireland have still to be released, and this will provide another platform to raise the issue of lung cancer.

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