More than a million people have been invited for a lung cancer check, as part of what NHS England described as the biggest programme in the history of the NHS to improve early lung cancer diagnosis.
It said that almost 2400 cancers had been detected through the programme, with around three-quarters detected at stages one and two.
Lung cancer is the third most common cancer, with around 48,500 new lung cancer cases diagnosed, and almost 35,000 deaths, every year in the UK. Smoking causes 72% of lung cancers, with 79% of lung cancer cases being preventable, according to Cancer Research UK.
Those diagnosed with lung cancer at stages one or two are nearly 20 times more likely to survive for five years or more than those whose cancer is detected at later stages.
Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK chief executive, said: "Lung cancer takes more lives than any other cancer, but an early diagnosis can greatly improve the chance of survival. That's why lung health checks for people at high risk of the disease are so important."
Following recommendations from the UK National Screening Committee and a Government announcement in July 2023, a national rollout of the Targeted Lung Health Check Programme began across England. The first phase of the rollout focusses on reaching 40% of the eligible population by March 2025, with the aim of 100% coverage by March 2030.
Professor Peter Johnson, NHS national clinical director for cancer, highlighted that programme is the latest in a "series of measures" to detect cancer early.
GP records are being used to identify 55 to 74-year-olds who are current or former smokers, with people invited if all the following applied to them:
- A current or former smoker
- Aged between 55 and 74
- Live in an area where lung health checks are currently offered
- Registered with a GP surgery
Eligible patients receive a letter or phone call from their GP or a local NHS service inviting them to attend an appointment. Patients identified will have their risk of cancer assessed using their smoking history, along with questions about symptoms, lifestyle, and family and medical history. Those considered particularly at risk will be invited for lung CT scans every 2 years.
Through the programme, 1,052,083 former and current smokers have been invited to attend a consultation in locations such as football stadiums, shopping car parks, and town centres, with on-the-spot chest scans for those at highest risk. England's Health and Social Care Secretary, Steve Barclay emphasised that using these venues "makes it as easy as possible" for people to get scanned.
Patients Have a Part to Play
The targeted lung health checks had also identified thousands of people with "other undiagnosed respiratory conditions", allowing them to get treatment much quicker and prevent potential hospitalisations, underlined NHS England.
Health experts and NHS leaders are urging everyone who receives an invite for a lung health check to attend, regardless of whether they think they are in good health or not. Paula Chadwick, chief executive of Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, said: "When it comes to diagnosing lung cancer, speed is paramount. This milestone means more people are being given the opportunity to get that potentially life-saving diagnosis.
"The NHS is playing its part in improving the earlier diagnosis of lung cancer, but invitees have to play theirs too.
"We have seen many examples of people being diagnosed with early stage lung cancer who didn't have any symptoms. This is why it is so important to have the check even if you feel well."