30th April 2020

It’s what Roy wanted

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“It’s too late for me, but it’s not too late for our children and our children’s children.”

Poignant words by the incredible Roy Castle.

When our charity first opened its doors, treatment options for lung cancer were limited. Roy knew this. He toured the country knowing it would not save his life, but it could save the lives of others in the future.

Roy has been proven right as we witness a series of exciting developments.

Gold standard

Today, more people than ever before receive curative intent surgery and advances in surgical techniques means this gold standard of treatment is becoming an option to more people.

Many procedures are now performed using ‘minimal access’ approaches, mostly video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS), where tiny video cameras allow doctors to see inside the chest. As this surgery involves smaller cuts, patients often recover more quickly and easily.

In November 2019, a team at Royal Papworth Hospital became the first in the world to use this technique to remove the lung of Raymond Page, a retired milkman from Peterborough.

Deemed remarkable by our founder, Professor Raymond Donnelly, who performed the first lung cancer keyhole surgery 28 years earlier, the surgery took just three hours and left a small 5cm scar. Shortly after the operation, Mr Page was free of pain and walking and chatting to his wife:

“I was a touch apprehensive about being the first patient, but the team were brilliant. I cannot thank them enough.

“I had the occasional bit of pain when coughing for the first day but that’s it really. I could walk just a couple of days later and was back home in six.”

Hit the target

In parallel to curative advances, the development of life lengthening treatments, such as targeted and immunotherapies, have begun to thrive. Prior to this, chemotherapy and radiotherapy were the only treatment options available to people diagnosed with late stage lung cancer.

There are currently 10 targeted therapies and four immunotherapies available in the UK and for many eligible patients, they have transformed their lives, people like Kathy, who was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in 2013.

I was diagnosed at the right time. Two years earlier and I probably wouldn’t still be here. My lung cancer may not be curable but that doesn’t mean it isn’t treatable. It doesn’t mean it isn’t liveable because it is – trust me!

“There are now lots of treatment options available for people with lung cancer and they are coming thick and fast. It’s why I am still here. It’s why I can still drive, go on holiday and play the joker It’s why I have no pain, why I don’t look like I have cancer and why I certainly don’t act like I have cancer!”

Tomorrow’s world today

And things continue to move forward, for treatment, and also diagnosis.

Early diagnosis has, and will, always be at the forefront of our work. This is the key to saving lives.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has the potential to vastly advance medical imaging, particularly CT scanning, reducing radiation exposure and improving image quality. It could also lower costs and reduce workforce demands.

A team at University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust recently reported on its promising outcomes using an algorithm developed by a UK tech start up.

The Red Dot algorithm was fed a sample of chest X-rays from 1,513 patients who had been directly referred by a GP and correctly identified the presence and location of 10 out of 11 incidences where cancers were later histologically confirmed.

The next steps would be to run clinical trials to create a sound evidence base to demonstrate that the use of AI both safe and beneficial in clinical practice.

There is a way to go to create a sound evidence base to demonstrate that it is both safe and beneficial in clinical practice, but it is likely AI will play a key role in the future development of lung cancer diagnosis.

Expect better

When we look back to when our charity launched, the leap forward in diagnosis and treatment has been phenomenal but we should still expect better.

Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation is as passionate as when we first opened our doors, and the needs of patients remain our priority and focus. We expect better research, better treatments and better outcomes and we will continue to lead the charge in making it a reality.