Targeted lung cancer screening programme introduced to detect cancer sooner
A national targeted lung cancer screening programme designed to catch cancer sooner or prevent it altogether has been announced by the Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.
Each year the programme – which will cost £270 million annually once fully implemented – is expected to detect as many as 9,000 people with cancer, deliver almost one million scans and provide treatment earlier.
The rollout follows a successful opening phase where approximately 70% of the screening took place in mobile units parked in convenient places – such as supermarket car parks – to ensure easy access and focused on more deprived areas where people are four times more likely to smoke.
The programme, backed by a recommendation from the UK National Screening Committee – will use patient’s GP records for those aged 55 to 74 to identify current or former smokers. Patients will have their risk of cancer assessed based on their smoking history and other factors and those considered high risk will be invited for specialist scans every two years.
The Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, said, “As we approach the 75th anniversary of the foundation of the NHS, I want to ensure that it continues to thrive for the next 75 years and beyond.
“And while we focus on cutting waiting lists in the short term, we must also look to tackle some of the long-term challenging facing the NHS, including lung cancer which costs 35,000 lives every year. Rolling out screening to high-risk 55-74 year olds will save lives by detecting up to 9,000 lung cancers a year at an early stage.
“The NHS has treated record numbers of cancer patients over the last two years, with cancer being diagnosed at an earlier stage more often and survival rates improving across almost all types of cancer. Today’s announcement will help us go further and provide a lifeline to thousands of families across the country.”
The programme could also help people improve their health and reduce their risk of cancer by encouraging the use of smoking cessation services.
During the initial phase almost 900,000 people were invited for checks, 375,000 risk assessments made and 200,000 scans were carried out.
Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, Michelle Mitchell, said, “This is really positive news for a cancer type that takes more lives than any other. Targeted lung screening across England could diagnose people most at risk at an earlier stage, when treatment is more likely to be successful.”
More than 2,000 people were detected as having cancer, 76% at an earlier stage compared to 29% in 2019 outside of the programme.
Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said, “Through our screening programme we are now seeing more diagnoses at stage 1 and stage 2 in the most deprived communities which is both a positive step and a practical example of how we are reducing health inequalities.
“Rolling this out further will prolong lives by catching cancer earlier and reducing the levels of treatment required not just benefiting the patient but others waiting for treatment.
“I am determined to combat cancer on all fronts through better prevention, detection, treatment and research.”
Smoking causes 72% of lung cancers, around 35,000 people die and 48,000 people are diagnosed with lung cancer each year.
It has one of the lowest survival rates of all cancers which is largely attributed to lung cancer being diagnosed at a late stage when treatment is much less likely to be effective. Treating cancer early improves people’s chance of survival with 60% of people currently surviving stage one cancer for five years or more and 4% at stage four.
It is estimated the rollout will mean 325,000 people will be newly eligible for a first scan each year with 992,000 scans expected per year in total. Additional radiographers, due to be appointed as part of the long term workforce plan, will help to support the programme.
Anyone assessed as being at high risk of lung cancer will be referred to have a low dose Computed Tomography (LDCT) scan and subsequent diagnosis and treatment if needed. Those whose scans are negative will be reinvited for further scans every 24 months, until they pass the upper age limit.
Some people who test negative but are found to have nodules will be reinvited for more frequent scans. These nodules are often the first signs of cancer developing so by monitoring more frequently if they turn cancerous they can be delt with quickly and at the early stages.
NHS chief executive, Amanda Pritchard, said, “Identifying lung cancer early saves lives, and the expansion of the NHS’s targeted lung health check programme is another landmark step forward in our drive to find and treat more people living with this devastating disease at the earliest stage.
“The NHS lung trucks programme is already delivering life-changing results, with people living in the most deprived areas now more likely to be diagnosed at an earlier stage, giving them a better chance of successful treatment.
“As the NHS turns 75, we will not stop in our efforts to detect more cancers earlier, when they are easier to treat, and to find new and innovative ways to make it as easy as possible for those most at risk to get life-saving tests as part of their daily routines.
“If you receive an invitation, please do take it up, and if you are worried about a possible symptom of cancer, please come forward to your GP – getting checked could save your life.”
The first phase of the scheme will reach 40% of the eligible population by March 2025 with the aim of 100% coverage by March 2030 following the rollout which will also help support the government objective for England to be smoke free by 2030.
During the pilot Cancer Alliances developed schemes locally. A national programme will benefit from an integrated IT system and a safe, consistent and effective programme across the country and for a number of years.
Paula Chadwick, chief executive of Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, said:
“This is the news we have been waiting for. This is the day we truly begin to level up the lung cancer playing field.
“Lung cancer screening allows us to get ahead of this awful disease for the first time, catching it at the earliest opportunity – often before symptoms even start – and treating it with an aim to cure. Through the success of NHS England’s targeted lung health check programme, we have been able to detect 76% of cancers at stages one and two, which turns current rates on their head. Now, with this announcement, many more lives will be saved, making today a very good day in our mission to beat the UK’s biggest cancer killer.”