26th June 2023

Lung cancer screening given green light 

View all Early detection

It is the news we have been waiting for… a national targeted screening programme has been announced for lung cancer.

People aged 55-74 with a GP record including a history of smoking will be assessed and invited for screening. 

Building on the success of the current lung screening pilots, which have already diagnosed over 2000 cases of lung cancer at a 76% early detection rate, a national lung cancer screening programme is expected to detect as many as 9000 people with cancer, deliver close to a million scans and provide treatment earlier each year. It could also help people improve their health and reduce their risk of cancer. 

The programme, backed by a recommendation from the UK National Screening Committee, will use patient’s GP records to identify those eligible and invite them for screening. At an initial appointment, patients will have their risk for lung cancer assessed. This will be based on multiple factors, including their smoking history. Those considered high risk will be invited for specialist scans every two years. 

Paula Chadwick, chief executive of Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, is delighted by the announcement: 

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, 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 over three quarters 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.” 

How lung cancer screening saves lives 

Fran White is one of the 2000 people who has been diagnosed with lung cancer through screening.  

Fran has always been an advocate for screening and regularly attends her bowel and breast screening appointments, so when she was invited for a lung screening, she booked her appointment straightaway. 

“I thought it was a good idea to have my lungs checked, even though at the time I didn’t have any health concerns,” recalls Fran. 

“Cancer was at the back of my mind, so it wasn’t a huge shock when they said they found something. What was surprising was how quick everything happened; from my first appointment to my surgery was just a matter of months. 

“I recovered really quickly too and now I just have check ups every few months. Other than that, my life is very much as it was before. I’ve been on holiday. I look after my grandchildren. I’m even thinking of going back to the gym! You would never know I had lung cancer!” 

The first step in improving early detection 

Lung cancer has one of the lowest survival rates of all cancers. This is largely attributed to lung cancer being diagnosed at late stage. Catching lung cancer earlier improves people’s chance of longer-term survival with 60% of people currently surviving stage one lung cancer for five years or more. 

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. 

“We look forward to seeing the full implementation plan for lung cancer screening in the coming weeks,” continues Paula, “because as notable as this announcement is, our work is far from done.  

“We have a number of questions surrounding its rollout, including how the programme will be adopted by Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and the clear and obvious issues around NHS workforce. In order for this life-saving programme to meet its full potential, it needs to be made available across the whole of the UK with substantial support and expertise in place.  

It is also important to highlight our commitment beyond screening. We appreciate some will be frustrated by the targeted nature of this programme. However, this momentous milestone is to be celebrated and this hard worked moment is to be savoured and enjoyed.  

“Today is the day we have been waiting for since this charity was founded over 30 years ago. Today lung cancer has been made a priority and we are determined for it to stay a priority. Today is the first step in improving the early detection of lung cancer for everyone.”