New lung cancer screening rollout 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 government.

Each year the programme – which will cost £270m annually once fully implemented – is expected to detect cancer in as many as 9,000 people, deliver almost one million scans and provide treatment earlier.

woman in black and white stripe shirt

The rollout follows a successful opening phase where approximately 70 percent 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 patients’ 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.

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 challenges facing the NHS, including lung cancer which costs 35,000 lives every year. Rolling out screening to high-risk 55 to 74 year olds will save lives by detecting up to 9,000 lung cancers a year at an early stage.’

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 were made and 200,000 scans were carried out.

More than 2,000 people were detected as having cancer, 76% at an earlier stage compared to 29% in 2019 outside of the programme.

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 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 percent of people currently surviving stage one cancer for five years or more and four percent 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 support the programme.

Anyone assessed as being at high risk of lung cancer will be referred to have a low dose computed tomography 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 dealt with quickly and at the early stages.

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 smokefree by 2030.

Cancer Research UK 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.’

Image: CDC


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