A SUPPORT group is being set up in the area for people with lung cancer.

The new group, which will hold its first meeting in Darlington next Tuesday, is part of an initiative to improve the care of lung cancer patients in South Durham.

Every week four patients are diagnosed with lung cancer in South Durham, and last year about 200 people were diagnosed with the illness.

Specialist lung cancer nurse Jeanette Draffon, from Darlington Memorial Hospital, has high hopes for the support group.

If it is successful it is likely to lead to sister groups being formed at Bishop Auckland and Newton Aycliffe.

Ms Draffon, one of two specialist respiratory oncology nurses appointed by the County Durham and Darlington Hospitals NHS Trust more than a year ago, believes the group will provide invaluable help to patients and their families.

The other nurse, who is based at Bishop Auckland General Hospital, is Karen Capenhurst.

"Potentially there could be hundreds of people out there who are living with lung cancer. We would like to see as many as possible attend this first meeting," said Ms Draffon.

The group has been welcomed by lung cancer patient Jean Bowes, from Darlington, who believes it will help people like her.

Mrs Bowes, 52, was referred to the Memorial hospital for further tests after a persistent cough would not go away.

A life-long smoker, Mrs Bowes blames her illness on her 15 cigarettes a day habit.

"What really saddens me is the number of young people who take up smoking," she said.

"They should know that it only takes a few puffs on a cigarette and that's it, you are hooked for life," said Mrs Bowes, who is coming to the end of a course of chemotherapy.

Unfortunately, unlike a number of other common cancers, including breast cancer, the outlook for most lung cancer patients is poor.

"The emphasis is on giving lung cancer patients a good quality of life for as long as possible. Jean has got a very positive attitude," said Ms Draffon

The first lung cancer support group meeting will be held at the Blackwell Grange Hotel, Darlington, next Tuesday, between 2pm and 4pm.

For details call Jeanette Draffon on (01325) 743424.