28th October 2015

‘Unacceptable’ variation in UK’s lung cancer care says new report

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The UK Lung Cancer Coalition (UKLCC), of which Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation is a member, is today calling on the Department of Health and NHS England to urgently tackle the ‘unacceptable’ variations in lung cancer care.  Despite ‘significant’ improvements in survival and incidence rates, people with lung cancer still face huge inequalities when accessing lung cancer treatments and services – as a result of their age, socio-economic status or where they live.

“While the predicted five year survival rate of patients diagnosed in England in 2013 is now almost double (16%) what it was ten years ago (9%), UK survival rates compare poorly with other major cancers and lag seriously behind our European counterparts,” says Dr Mick Peake, clinical lead for the National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN), and chair of the UKLCC’s clinical advisory group which authored the report.  “Put simply: ten years on we are not where we should be.”

According to the UKLCC’s report Ten years on in lung cancer: the changing landscape of the UK’s biggest cancer killer:-

  • Five-year survival rates for breast cancer are still up to ten times higher than lung cancer five-year survival rates in England and Wales
  • The proportion of people with early stage lung cancer varies from 33 to 63 per cent across England and Wales and rates for chemotherapy vary from 46 to 63 per cent
  • Patients receiving active treatment under the age of 65 in England is 77 per cent, compared to 20 per cent for people over 80 – nearly four times higher
  • The number of patients assigned a lung cancer clinical nurse specialist still varies significantly across England and Wales from 36 to 100 per cent
  • The number of patients being diagnosed with advanced  lung cancer varies from 11 to 76 per cent in England
  • The number of men diagnosed with lung cancer in the UK has decreased by  11 per cent – yet increased in women by 17 per cent over the last ten years

To address these disparities and ensure delivery of the highest quality lung cancer care, the UKLCC is pressing policy makers to ensure that lung cancer is appropriately prioritised in the implementation of the new five year cancer strategy. The UKLCC wants GP contracts to prioritise early diagnosis of lung cancer. It also wants to see an increase the number of lung cancer specialist nurses; an emphasis on the benefits of a national lung cancer screening programme; and work with commissioners to ensure patients receive access to the latest molecular diagnostic tests.  The re-instigation of the Be Clear on Cancer lung cancer awareness campaign is also imperative.

“Up to 89% of lung cancer cases are preventable across the UK,” says Mr Richard Steyn, chair of the UK Lung Cancer Coalition, and consultant thoracic surgeon and associate medical director, surgery, Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust. “Awareness of the signs and symptoms of lung cancer is key to early diagnosis and better patient outcomes. Yet patients in the UK are diagnosed with more advanced disease than many other countries. In England around 40 per cent of people with lung cancer first reach specialist care via an emergency admission to hospital,” he adds.

Lung cancer remains the UK’s biggest cancer killer; it kills over 35,000 people each year, which is more than breast, bowel, bladder and uterine cancer combined. The disease accounts for nearly a quarter of all UK cancer deaths (22 per cent) and one in seven (13%) of all new UK cancer cases. It is reported that four people die from lung cancer in the UK every hour (someone every 15 minutes). Despite, being labelled a ‘smoker’s disease’, one in eight people with lung cancer have never smoked.

Robert Peston, the BBC economics editor recently appointed political editor by ITV – whose wife died of lung cancer – said: “Although lung-cancer survival rates in Britain are improving, they remain unacceptably poor, compared with much of the rest of the rich world. Much more money is needed for research, diagnosis and awareness campaigns.”

You can find out how lung cancer care in your area compares against the rest of the UK by viewing our interactive lung cancer map.