21st April 2022

Lung health checks turn early detection rate on its head

View all Early detection

The NHS England Targeted Lung Health Check has diagnosed more than three quarters (77%) of cancers at either stage one or two, latest figures show.

To date, 600 people have been diagnosed early through the programmes, which are available in current areas of England with the highest rates of lung cancer.

Lung cancer is difficult to diagnose early, with symptoms often only becoming clear when the cancer has already advanced. As a result, just over a quarter (26.6%) of people are currently diagnosed at stage one or two, when curative-intent treatment is most possible.

People diagnosed with lung cancer at the earliest stage are nearly 20 times more likely to survive for five years than those whose cancer is caught late.

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

“For over 30 years, we have been campaigning for lung cancer screening because we know it can save many lives. This is evidence of exactly that. 600 people have been given a better chance to live through lung cancer because of these life saving programmes. This is cause for celebration.

“But as wonderful as this news is, we must not rest on our laurels. These programmes are only available in selected areas of England so we will continue our push for a national lung cancer screening programme and urge everyone affected by lung cancer to make their voices heard and submit comments to the national screening committee before 8th June 2022, so these life-saving programmes can become available nationwide.

“We are also proud to working with NHS England to encourage more people who are eligible for a check up to make an appointment. We know if may not seem urgent because you most likely feel well and have no symptoms.

But that’s the thing with lung cancer; there aren’t always clear and obvious symptoms, especially in the early stages of the disease. You won’t necessary feel unwell, or have a persistent cough, so please if you are invited, do make an appointment as soon as you can. When it comes to lung cancer, time really is of the essence.”

New figures show only a third (35%) of people go to their lung health check when invited by the NHS, with many not making an appointment because they “feel well”. However, experts are urging people to have the check even if they feel they are in good health.

Harry Burn attended the Targeted Lung Health Check in Stoke and was shocked at his diagnosis.

“I thought I was pretty fit. They confirmed that I had a nodule in the right lung. I’d also got calcification of the heart, a problem with the parotid gland in the neck and also mild emphysema. So at that point I thought ‘Oh! Perhaps I’m not as fit as I thought I was!’

Fortunately, Harry was diagnosed early and had surgery to remove the tumour, with no follow up chemotherapy.

“I had been worried about the size of the operation and the pain I’d be in afterwards, but I needn’t have worried. I had no pain at all. I just couldn’t believe it and now I’m back to my old self. There’s nothing that I can’t do. Absolutely nothing.

I honestly don’t know what would have happened had I have not gone for the check-up. I probably would have carried on in the same vein and things most probably would have got worse. Instead, I can now look forward to growing old.”