A ground-breaking health check programme which has saved lives across Liverpool is re-starting after being put on hold during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Now part of NHS England’s programme, the Liverpool Targeted Health Check successfully ran from 2016 until last year. In that time, it identified over 120 people who had lung cancer. Most of them were diagnosed with early-stage lung cancer and have since had curative-intent treatment.
Lung cancer is notoriously difficult to detect early. Its symptoms are often vague and easy to ignore or dismiss, particularly in the current situation. In many cases, symptoms only become obvious when the cancer has already spread. As a result, around 75% of people in the UK found to have lung cancer are diagnosed with terminal disease.
Targeted lung health checks, however, has the power to change this, revolutionising long term lung cancer survival rates by detecting it at the earliest opportunity, even before symptoms appear, and could cut lung cancer deaths by almost a third.
Dr Chris Warburton, Medical Director of Cheshire and Merseyside Cancer Alliance and Consultant in Respiratory Medicine at Liverpool University Hospital, said:
NHS England’s Targeted Lung Health Check programme is a national programme to target those most at risk of lung cancer, in areas with the highest rates of mortality from the disease.
It is tremendous that the checks have now been resumed in Liverpool, with plans to roll the programme out over the coming months, firstly across Knowsley and Halton, and hopefully then to the rest of Cheshire and Merseyside.
I urge everyone eligible to have the check as it can diagnose many conditions, as well as cancer.”
Jo Shoba is one of over 100 people who have already been diagnosed through the programme. She felt well and had no symptoms when she went for her initial appointment. She was shocked when she was diagnosed with lung cancer even though she had not smoked in over 40 years.
She said: “I was in complete shock! How could I possibly have cancer? It just seemed so unlikely because I was so well. But that’s the thing with lung cancer, as I’ve since learnt. It doesn’t matter who you are, no one is immune. The aim of the lung health check is to pick up cases like mine at the earliest possible opportunity before symptoms have even appeared.
I count myself extremely lucky. Without this intervention my story would probably be very different. I would have known nothing about the cancer in my lung until the appearance of symptoms, quite possibly at a stage when treatment would be much more difficult. The care I received – from the initial health check appointment to the subsequent scans, the surgery and the recovery – was amazing, and I am so grateful to the NHS.Jo Shoba
Over 17,000 people attended a lung health check appointment in Liverpool before the programme was forced to pause last year, with nearly 7,000 people having a CT scan. Significantly, 72% of those diagnosed through the lung health check had early-stage lung cancer like Jo and were offered curative-intent treatment, turning current early detection rates on their head.
Dr Martin Ledson, Clinical Lead for Respiratory Medicine at Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital, said:
“Over the years, we have seen significant improvement in the early detection of many other cancers but not with lung cancer. Targeted lung health checks offer a way to change this. Without this programme, people like Jo many have diagnosed at a much later stage and could have had a very different outcome.
The lung health check scheme has also diagnosed people with many other conditions, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma, and even other forms of cancer, allowing them to get the appropriate treatment and care. That is why we are delighted to have now recommenced the programme and we can start inviting people back for a lung health check. The facts speak for themselves; it will save lives and we hope it will take us a step closer to a national lung screening programme.”
Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation has been working with the Targeted Lung Health Check team in Liverpool, as well as other sites across England, to ensure as many people as possible attend a health check if invited.
Paula Chadwick is the chief executive of the charity:
“It is fantastic to see Targeted Lung Health Checks back up and running again after many months on hold and we’re extremely proud of all the work our teams have done together.
Early detection has been the heart of our charity since it founded over 30 years ago. Back then, a programme felt like a fantasy but, after years of hard work and campaigning, it is now very much a reality and an incredible opportunity to save the lives of thousands of people with lung cancer.
We intend to do everything we can to get as many people as possible having a lung health check and provide further evidence that CT screening for lung cancer works. We will not this opportunity pass us by.”
Jo Shoba added: “I know of people who have received an invitation and not followed it up. I can understand why – life’s busy, you forget to make the appointment, you think it’s not relevant to you, or maybe you’re a little frightened. However, my experience says – ‘You don’t know what you don’t know!’
There’s an onus on us to do our bit and if we’re being told it would be a good thing to have a check-up, then have it. If you value your health, why wouldn’t you have it checked?
I’m at the stage now where I can’t believe how lucky I have been. To be back, a matter of months since my operation, feeling fit and joining in with things that make up the fabric of my life, is pretty amazing.”
Targeted Lung Health Checks are currently running in the following areas for people aged 55-74 who currently smoke or have previously smoked, with more regions being added to the programme:
Liverpool, Newcastle Gateshead, Tameside and Glossop, Knowsley, Halton, Blackburn with Darwen, Blackpool, North Kirklees , Doncaster , Hull, Thurrock, Luton, Corby, Mansfield and Ashfield and Southampton.