SNP MP Brendan O’Hara has spoken publicly for the first time about the tragic loss of his brother in a bid to challenge the “stigma” around lung cancer.

O’Hara, who lost his brother, Diarmid, to lung cancer in July 2020, has now given his backing to life-saving research which could help others in the future.

Diarmid, a father-of-three, was told he had just months to live after his shock diagnosis in May 2016.

“It was devastating – out of the blue doesn’t begin to describe it,” said O’Hara. “Diarmid was enjoying life, he had just started a new job at West College Scotland and was relishing more time with his family as a result. Just before his diagnosis, I vividly remember a conversation when he told me how good life was, and how he and his wife, Yvonne, were looking forward to a whole new adventure together with the kids.”

Shortly after, O’Hara was “shattered” when Diarmid called to deliver the awful news.

READ MORE: Charity finds 4900 cancer cases a year linked to deprivation

“He told me that he had lung cancer, it had spread to his bones and liver and that he had just months to live.”

However O’Hara said Diarmid had been determined to face his diagnosis “with all the strength he could muster”.

He added: “I feel that we were incredibly lucky to have Diarmid for the 49 months between his diagnosis and his death. He was at the centre of every family gathering and we made as many memories as we could together. Diarmid was determined to see his youngest son Patrick turn 16 and he beat the odds to do just that.”

After Diarmid died, leaving Yvonne and children, Patrick, Cormac (21) and Sinead (20), the family “did a lot of soul searching”.

“We wondered if we missed something, if there was something that we should have looked out for,” said O’Hara. “But Diarmid was fit and healthy, he played five-a-side football and took everything in moderation. He didn’t fit the stereotypical view we have of someone diagnosed with lung cancer.

“One thing always stood out to me. Whenever news of Diarmid’s diagnosis spread, the reaction was the same. People would say to me ‘But he’s never smoked a cigarette in his life!’. It made me realise that we attach a stigma to lung cancer that we don’t attach to any other disease.”

O’Hara pointed out that the number of people who are being diagnosed with lung cancer having never smoked, is on the rise.

“It’s more common than we think it is and we need to understand it better,” he said. “We’ll never know what caused Diarmid’s cancer, but I don’t want others to be in that same position.”

He said the only way to challenge the stigma around lung cancer was by investing in research to find the answers needed to beat this terrible disease.

“That is why I’m supporting Cancer Research UK’s in their efforts to fund vital research into lung cancer,” said O’Hara.

According to analysis from Cancer Research UK, each year around 1300 cases of lung cancer in Scotland, and around 13,600 cases of lung cancer in the UK, are not attributable to smoking.

Recently, a major research breakthrough funded by Cancer Research UK revealed how lung cancer can arise in people who have never smoked.

Cancer Research UK-funded scientists at the Francis Crick Institute and University College London found that cells carrying cancer-causing mutations can be woken up in response to an environmental trigger, such as air pollution. They showed that air pollution causes inflammation within the lungs, which encourages these cells to wake up and grow out of control to become tumours.

The research opens up new possibilities for treating lung cancer in people who have never smoked. Scientists found that a molecule called interleukin-1 beta starts the inflammation process – and blocking it could stop lung cancers starting through this mechanism.

The research will now be continuing through the TOPICAL study into air pollution and lung cancer, which ScottishPower are supporting, and TRACERx EVO, a £14.9 million programme funded by Cancer Research UK and the UCL Biomedical Research Centre, in the hope of finding new treatments for the disease.

Professor Charles Swanton, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician and lead author of the study, said: “Diarmid’s story shows all too clearly why we need to better understand the underlying mechanisms driving lung cancer.

“Previously, we had thought that environmental carcinogens, like air pollution, directly mutated the DNA sequence to cause cancer.

“But our research has revealed a new way in which air pollution can set off a molecular chain of events that leads to cancer.

READ MORE: Scottish charity creates giant mosaics celebrating cancer research

“Our discovery that air pollution causes inflammation, which can subsequently cause lung cancer has the potential to advance our understanding how cancers begin and opens up new possibilities for cancer prevention.

“I hope that, with further research, we’ll be in a position to offer better treatment options for lung cancer in the future and even prevent the disease from starting in the first place.”

O’Hara added: “It is amazing to see the progress that is being made to understand what causes lung cancer, especially in people who have never smoked.

“I’m grateful to Charlie, his team, Cancer Research UK and ScottishPower for their support for this vital life-saving research.”