27th May 2022

When Harry met screening

View all Early detection

“I thought I was pretty fit. Then they confirmed I had a nodule in my right lung. They also found calcification of the heart, a problem with the parotid gland in my neck and mild emphysema. At that point I thought ‘Oh! Perhaps I’m not as fit as I thought!’”

Harry chuckled as he recalls the results from his recent lung health check. Because he is able to laugh at it now. After seeing an advert for his local targeted lung health check in Stoke, Harry went on to be diagnosed with early-stage lung cancer. He has since surgery to remove the tumour and is recovering well.

Had he not gone for that appointment, it would have been no laughing matter.

“I can’t believe how well the operation went, and how well I felt. I was a bit concerned about how much pain I would be in after having such a big operation, but I needn’t had worried. I had no pain at all. 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 don’t think I would have gone to my doctor with the cough or the breathlessness because I just presumed it was one of those things, so I probably would have carried on in the same vein and things most probably would have got worse. Instead, I can look forward to growing old.”

Whilst many of us joke about getting older, the truth is growing old is a privilege, one sadly many with lung cancer are denied. However, with the relaunch and expansion of targeted lung health checks in England, the tide is starting to turn.

After being forced to pause during the peak of the pandemic, Targeted Lung Health Checks in England are now getting back on track, with 77% of cancers diagnosed caught at stage 1 or 2.

A further 27 programmes have now launched, making 50 in total with approximately 20% of England now having access to a check. The key now is ensuring those who are invited go.

But I feel fine…

Harry attended his appointment without any apprehension. He thought he was fit and healthy and so never expected to be diagnosed with lung cancer. And he is not alone. Jo Shoba attended a similar programme in Liverpool. She too had no symptoms but went on to receiving a diagnosis. This is what makes these programmes so vital.

With a disease as serious as lung cancer, it is hard to believe that the symptoms don’t match up, that there is not a clear and obvious sign that danger is afoot. But this is the nature of the disease; symptoms often don’t get our full attention until it is too late, or in some cases are not there at all. Lung health checks allow us to get ahead of lung cancer and stop it in its tracks, and this is the message we are trying to make clear as we support numerous programmes across the country.

From social media to outdoor advertising and community engagement events, we are working to ensure everyone who is invited for a lung health check makes an appointment, even if they feel fine. Just as people would go for a mammogram or cervical screening or send off their bowel cancer home test kit. It is done as a matter of course, rather than because something isn’t right.

And it’s working. The relaunch of the Liverpool programme in the northern part of the city saw a 52% uptake rate. Prior to our involvement, uptake had averaged around 40%.

It is a similar success story in Mansfield and Ashfield, which is seeing almost three quarters (72%) of people opting in.

As part of our activity here, we interviewed a lady called Terri. Whilst she hadn’t been diagnosed through the lung health check, her lung cancer was caught early, and she was keen to share her experience to highlight the importance of early detection:

“I’ve had six more years of my son on his birthdays and sharing times with him. He’s left home now but we still go to music festivals together. We go to gigs together, and we’re creating lots of memories. Whereas, if I hadn’t gone to the doctors, I might not have been sharing those memories.

I think early detection is vital which is why I’m urging anyone who is invited for a lung health check to please go. You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain. I’m living proof that with early detection you can go on to live a full and happy life after.”

Wales hopes to launch its targeted lung health check programme later this year, while work is underway to see how programmes could operate in Scotland and Northern Ireland. For more information about Targeted Lung Health Checks and lung cancer, please visit roycastle.org/screening