James Brokenshire MP will use a debate in Parliament today to call for a national lung cancer screening programme.
The former Northern Ireland secretary was diagnosed with lung cancer in the new year after he coughed up a small amount of blood on a single occasion. Fortunately, due to his own persistence and a good GP, he was diagnosed early and eligible for curative surgery.
Recognising that his story is one of a minority, he is now calling for a national lung cancer screening programme and the more effective adoption of best practice across the country to help improve survival rates.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast this morning he said:
“The death rate for lung cancer has been stubbornly poor and that’s because my situation isn’t common. Most cases are picked up very, very late when the disease has already progressed on to other organs and it’s why I do think we need a screening programme.
“We need to be aware of the signs of lung cancer so people can get the help that they need and I think that screening people, where we can pick things up earlier. This allows a much better chance to see that can live longer lives, that curative surgery may be available to them. That’s why I’m leading this debate tonight.
“I feel that I’ve been really, really lucky. I had amazing NHS care from some extraordinary people but having been through all of this I feel an obligation to try and bring about some change, some difference.
James Brokenshire MP recovering after lung cancer surgery
“It’s notable that we have screening programmes in things like breast [cancer] and yet more women will die from lung cancer than they will from breast cancer. It’s these hard, stark facts which makes me believe very strongly that a screening programme is appropriate. Yes, there are some really good steps starting to be taken, some pilots that are ongoing, work that clinicians are leading.
But I think we should be bolder. I think we should take a step forward and move to a screening programme to ensure that more people are in a situation like me, of picking up the disease earlier so that you can take action and it can be dealt with.
We also need to break some of the stigma linked to lung cancer. People feel guilt because they’ve smoked and don’t seek help or, in cases like my own where I didn’t smoke, people may think ‘well, I haven’t smoked so how can I get lung cancer?’. Well, 15 per cent of the cases are in non-smokers so we need to challenge this misconception. We need to challenge the stigma.
We need to look at the long term. We do need to look at approaches like screening that are about saving people’s lives and increasing their time healthfully, and therefore the benefits on the health service in doing that.
It’s why I do think we need this long term plan of looking at where the pressures are, the needs are, where new medicines are coming in.
Things are changing fast but on something like this, where 36,000 people are dying from lung cancer every year – two thirds because of late stage – I think we do need to move forward with a screening programme. I want to encourage that, promote that and see the change happen.”
We do need to look at approaches like screening that are about saving people’s lives and increasing their time healthfully, and therefore the benefits on the health service in doing that.James Brokenshire MP
Paula Chadwick is the chief executive of Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation. A lung cancer screening programme is the charity’s primary aim:
“James’ early diagnosis, curative treatment and positive recovery are inspirational and we are delighted he has chosen to become so involved with us in the fight against lung cancer.
It’s good to have a strong ally standing with us, shoulder to shoulder with the patients whose voice we represent. For their sake, it’s high time that lung cancer was firmly on the public health agenda.
James’ call echoes our own ‘Let’s Roll’ campaign in urging the introduction of a nationwide programme. Pilot studies, such our project in Nottingham, have shown that scans can pick up lung cancer at an early stage when it can be cured.
When a person is diagnosed at an early stage, they have up to a 73% chance of surviving for five years or more. The current five-year survival rate for lung cancer is just 10%. We should all expect better and a national programme would mean we can.”