Lung Health Checks Explained
Targeted lung health checks are a simple check up to see how well your lungs are working. They are currently available in selected areas of England for people aged 55-74 years old who have ever smoked and registered with a participating GP practice in the area.
There are often no signs or symptoms of lung cancer at an early stage. Targeted lung health checks help us get ahead of lung cancer, finding lung cancer at its earliest stage when it is easier to treat with curative intent, often before you have any symptoms.
We like to think of these health checks as an MOT for your lungs. We get our cars checked every year to make sure everything is ok. Our lungs work hard every minute of our lives so it makes sense to do the same for ourselves. Most people who attend an appointment feel very reassured.
Where are the lung health checks?
Lung Health Checks are currently available in some parts of England. These checks are gradually being rolled out across the country. We are also continuing to campaign for a national lung cancer screening programme.
If you’re eligible, you’ll get a letter or phone call from your GP or a local NHS service inviting you to an appointment.
- You are aged between 55 and 74
- You are a current or former smoker (and this is recorded on your medical history)
- You are registered with a GP surgery
- You live in an area where there is a lung health check.
Check if there is a lung health check in your area
There are currently no lung health checks in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. However, we are working hard to change this by campaign for the implementation of national screening.
Your lung health check appointment
If you are eligible for a lung health check, you will receive a letter from either your GP or the NHS inviting you for an appointment.
The programmes are gradually inviting eligible patients for a lung check – either region by region, or by age – so if you are eligible and haven’t received an invitation, don’t worry. It may just be that your local lung health check hasn’t reached your area or age bracket yet. You can contact your GP practice for further clarification.
In some locations, an appointment is automatically made for you while in others you will need to call and book the appointment yourself.
You should attend a lung health check even if you feel well, have no respiratory symptoms or have not smoked for many years.
What happens at the lung health check appointment?
You will have an appointment with a lung health check nurse in person, by phone or online. They will ask you some questions including information about:
- Your general health
- Your breathing
- Your overall lung health
- Your smoking history, and
- Any potential symptoms you may be experiencing.
The appointment will take between 30 and 45 minutes.
During the appointment, you will get the chance to ask any questions and discuss ways you can improve your overall lung health. If you are still smoking and would like some advice about quitting, the nurse can help with that too.
What happens after the lung health check appointment?
After you have had your appointment with the lung health check nurse, one of the following things will happen:
- You require no further appointments or follow ups. This is because the health check suggests you are not at higher risk of developing lung cancer
- You are referred to your GP. If the lung health check detects any problems with your lung health or your breathing, you may be referred back t your GP for a follow up appointment.
- You are offered a low CT scan of your lungs. This allows doctors to get a detailed picture of your lungs to check everything is ok. It is very common to be invited for a CT scan through these programmes and is no cause for concern. One of the main aims of lung health checks is to diagnose lung cancer at the earliest opportunity, before any symptoms have occurred, so they are ultra cautious. A large proportion of those who attend a lung health check will be invited for a CT scan. The majority of those who have a scan will not have lung cancer.
If you are invited for a scan, it is done in either a mobile scanning unit in your local community, or a local hospital. The CT scan itself only takes a few minutes and does not hurt.
What is a CT scan?
A CT scan is a type of x-ray, but it involves more radiation than a standard chest x-ray and shows more detailed pictures. It is used to check for any signs of lung cancer and lung disease.
It is a quick and painless procedure. There is no need to prepare in any way such as fast or have any injection. You don’t have to have the scan if you don’t want to. However, if you do have lung cancer, the earlier it is caught the better. If it’s caught early, it can be cured.
You will receive a letter with your results within four weeks of the CT scan. This will tell you what happens next. If the scan shows anything concerning, you may be referred for further lung scans or treatment.
The benefits of lung health checks
The majority people who have a lung health check will not have lung cancer. For those who do have, lung health checks can help speed up diagnosis and increase your treatment options, including curative-intent treatment. Currently 76% of people who have been diagnosed with lung cancer through the lung health check programme have been caught at stages 1 and 2.
Gordon didn’t have any symptoms when he was invited for a lung health check. In fact, he felt the best he had for years. This didn’t stop him from attending the check up and this decision probably saved his life.
Sandra nearly didn’t go for her lung health check. It was Christmas time so she was really busy and felt absolutely fine. She then realised how it important it was so made an appointment there and then.
Jeff knows how cruel lung cancer can be, having lost his mum and uncle to the disease. So when he got the chance to have his lungs checked, he booked an appointment straightaway – even though he felt well and had no symptoms.
Frequently Asked Questions
Currently, lung health checks are for people aged 55-74 who have ever smoked. This is because they are at a higher risk of lung disease or lung cancer than people who have never smoked.
However, anyone can get lung cancer so if you have any concerns or are experiencing symptoms, contact your GP immediately.
Under the current programme, lung health checks are available to people aged 55 to 74 with a smoking history. This is because your risk of lung cancer increases as you get older. The average age of a lung cancer patient is 72.
However, lung cancer can affect anyone at any age and so if you have any concerns or are experiencing potential lung cancer symptoms, please go to your doctor.
If you live in one of the selected areas, are aged between 55 and 74 and have ever smoked, you will receive a letter from your GP or the NHS inviting you for a lung health check. The letter will either have your appointment details on it or it will ask you to call to book your appointment.
Don’t worry if you haven’t been invited even if you meet the criteria for a lung health check. Many of the programmes are staggering the invitations and working their way round the region so not everyone will be invited straightaway.
If you have any concerns about your lung health, or you are experiencing potential lung cancer symptoms including a persistent cough, breathlessness, fatigue, weight loss, chest pain or recurrent chest infections, do not wait to be invited for a lung health check. You must contact your doctor.
You should attend a lung health check even if you are well. Many people with early stage lung cancer have no symptoms. One of the main aims of this programme is to detect lung cancer at the earliest opportunity when it can be cured.
Currently, the initial appointments with a lung health check nurse are virtual, so they are done in the safety and comfort of your own home.
If you are invited for a CT scan, this will be done in either a local hospital or a mobile CT unit.
Hospitals are safe and have a number of strict measures in place to ensure your safety, including one way systems, and face coverings.
Mobile CT units are Covid safe, and appointments will be scheduled so there will be a minimal number of people in the unit at any one time.
In both cases, there are plenty of opportunities to wash or sanitise your hands.
There are currently 23 areas offering lung health checks in England. However, NHS England is aiming to roll the programme out further in the future. We are also continuing our work for the implementation for a national lung cancer screening programme.
Lung health checks or lung cancer screening are not currently available in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. We are working hard to try and change this.
In Scotland, there is working underway to evaluate targeted screening tools for early lung cancer detection (Rapid response – Evidence synthesis: Targeted screening for early lung cancer in adults at high risk: January 2021).
In November 2020, a report and its recommendations were presented to the Cancer Implementation Group (CIG) to develop a programme approach for a lung health check pilot in Wales (Lung Health Checks Wales Scoping Report).