26th November 2019

How you save lives and make the case for lung cancer screening

View all Early detection

There are people alive today thanks to you.

This charity began funding a pilot study in Nottingham in 2017. The aims were to show that CT scans could accurately identify cases of lung cancer at an early stage and also to provide evidence that targeted lung health checks worked.

People most at risk of getting lung cancer were invited to visit their family doctor’s surgery to begin the process of assessing their lung health.

The headlines news is: we’ve saved lives. The scans disclosed six cases of lung cancer at very early stages and these patients were eligible for surgery with curative intent.

Four more cases of lung cancer were detected at more advanced stages. These patients have been able to receive the best treatment most appropriate to their condition, including radiotherapy, chemotherapy and palliative care.  Nine of these cases of lung cancer were detected by the lung health CT scans, while the other was picked up as a result of ‘interval’ checks.

Overall results to date show that 334 people received CT scans, and, of these, in 155 cases, no significant health issues were spotted. Great news for these patients, although four of them are now being advised about their smoking habit. Our advice is: quit smoking as soon as you can, and we offer online support to help you do that. It may be difficult, but you can do it.

Of the remaining 179 patients, 58 were referred to what is known as the ‘nodule pathway’. Nodules are small growths in the lung, many of which will never cause problems. In some cases, however, a nodule can grow and become cancer, so it’s vital that they are checked regularly to detect any changes before they can become serious.

Today, 37 people continue on the nodule pathway and have these ‘interval’ checks; 19 people have been discharged from the pathway. Sadly, the other two people have since died.

In 88 cases, other lung health issues have been detected; some of these may be potentially serious conditions such as emphysema or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). These patients have been referred for health care appropriate to their conditions.

That leaves 33 patients who were referred to the lung cancer pathway. This does not automatically mean that they have the disease, but it does mean there are good reasons for further investigations.

For ten of these people, there was good news: they did not have lung cancer and were discharged; 21 of the remaining patients remain within the lung cancer pathway. They are either receiving treatment or are under regular observation.

Bill Simpson was one of six patients to be diagnosed early and have curative treatment

Our project and its results break down further: we have been able provide the NHS with clear information about how the various cohorts of patients have been assessed and what has happened to them. It allows a detailed understanding not just of the amount of lung disease (and other illnesses) detected by the health check project, but also the impact that is having on the health service, in terms of resources and staffing.

It shows how many patients have required other types of tests, monitoring and treatment, and how many have been seen as regular outpatients or currently remain within the nodule or lung cancer pathways.

Paula Chadwick, chief executive of Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, takes great pride in what we have achieved:

“From the very beginning, we’ve been dedicated to finding better, faster, easier and more accurate ways to find lung cancer. Early detection is key to saving lives. That’s a fact.

“In health matters, the bottom line is always the same: it costs money to save lives; but we argue that it saves money in the long run.

“It costs more to treat people whose illness is detected at a much later stage than it does to help them when it’s spotted early. To plan properly, our NHS needs to understand what the likely costs, outcomes and benefits may be before they commit to a major undertaking such as rolling out lung health checks.

“This is another reason why our Nottingham project has been so vital.

We have saved lives; we will save the NHS money ‘downstream’; and we are providing crucial evidence that targeted health checks actually work. Our evidence is supporting the case for the roll-out of the 14 NHS England Lung Health Check pilots in ten locations across the country.

Paula Chadwick, chief executive

“Now we hope that this will pave the way for a full national lung cancer screening programme.

“This is your charity. We can only do this with your help, your support. Everything we do is made possible by the generosity of our supporters.  

“We’re all working together to save lives, save the NHS vital cash and resources, and to point towards a brighter future in which many more people who get lung cancer live better, for longer”.

It’s now 25 years since we lost Roy Castle to lung cancer. How proud would he be of what is being done in his name – today, tomorrow, and all the days after that?