The Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Steve Barclay visited Nottingham this morning (26 June) to announce a national extension of the targeted lung cancer screening programme, which is designed to catch cancer sooner or prevent it altogether.
The pair visited River Green Medical Practice in Clifton and the mobile targeted lung health check unit in Hyson Green to find out more about how the opening phase of the programme has been working in Nottingham and Nottinghamshire.
Each year the programme – which will cost £270 million annually once fully implemented – is expected to detect as many as 9,000 people with cancer, deliver almost one million scans and provide treatment earlier.
The rollout follows a successful opening phase where approximately 70% of the screening took place in mobile units parked in convenient places – such as supermarket car parks – to ensure easy access and focused on more deprived areas where people are four times more likely to smoke.
The programme, backed by a recommendation from the UK National Screening Committee – will use patient’s GP records for those aged 55 to 74 to identify current or former smokers. Patients will have their risk of cancer assessed based on their smoking history and other factors and those considered high risk will be invited for specialist scans every two years.
The Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, said: “As we approach the 75th anniversary of the foundation of the NHS, I want to ensure that it continues to thrive for the next 75 years and beyond.
“And while we focus on cutting waiting lists in the short term, we must also look to tackle some of the long-term challenging facing the NHS, including lung cancer which costs 35,000 lives every year. Rolling out screening to high-risk 55-74 year olds will save lives by detecting up to 9,000 lung cancers a year at an early stage.
“The NHS has treated record numbers of cancer patients over the last two years, with cancer being diagnosed at an earlier stage more often and survival rates improving across almost all types of cancer. Today’s announcement will help us go further and provide a lifeline to thousands of families across the country”.
The programme could also help people improve their health and reduce their risk of cancer by encouraging the use of smoking cessation services.
During the initial phase almost 900,000 people were invited for checks, 375,000 risk assessments made and 200,000 scans were carried out.
More than 2,000 people were detected as having cancer, 76% at an earlier stage compared to 29% in 2019 outside of the programme.
Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: “Through our screening programme we are now seeing more diagnoses at stage 1 and stage 2 in the most deprived communities which is both a positive step and a practical example of how we are reducing health inequalities.
“Rolling this out further will prolong lives by catching cancer earlier and reducing the levels of treatment required not just benefiting the patient but others waiting for treatment. I am determined to combat cancer on all fronts through better prevention, detection, treatment and research.”
Smoking causes 72% of lung cancers, around 35,000 people die and 48,000 people are diagnosed with lung cancer each year.
It has one of the lowest survival rates of all cancers which is largely attributed to lung cancer being diagnosed at a late stage when treatment is much less likely to be effective. Treating cancer early improves people’s chance of survival with 60% of people currently surviving stage one cancer for five years or more and 4% at stage four.
It is estimated the rollout will mean 325,000 people will be newly eligible for a first scan each year with 992,000 scans expected per year in total. Additional radiographers, due to be appointed as part of the long term workforce plan, will help to support the programme.
Anyone assessed as being at high risk of lung cancer will be referred to have a low dose Computed Tomography (LDCT) scan and subsequent diagnosis and treatment if needed. Those whose scans are negative will be reinvited for further scans every 24 months, until they pass the upper age limit.
Some people who test negative but are found to have nodules will be reinvited for more frequent scans. These nodules are often the first signs of cancer developing so by monitoring more frequently if they turn cancerous they can be delt with quickly and at the early stages.
NHS chief executive, Amanda Pritchard, said: “Identifying lung cancer early saves lives, and the expansion of the NHS’s targeted lung health check programme is another landmark step forward in our drive to find and treat more people living with this devastating disease at the earliest stage.
“The NHS lung trucks programme is already delivering life-changing results, with people living in the most deprived areas now more likely to be diagnosed at an earlier stage, giving them a better chance of successful treatment.
“As the NHS turns 75, we will not stop in our efforts to detect more cancers earlier, when they are easier to treat, and to find new and innovative ways to make it as easy as possible for those most at risk to get life-saving tests as part of their daily routines.
“If you receive an invitation, please do take it up, and if you are worried about a possible symptom of cancer, please come forward to your GP – getting checked could save your life.”
The first phase of the scheme will reach 40% of the eligible population by March 2025 with the aim of 100% coverage by March 2030 following the rollout which will also help support the government objective for England to be smokefree by 2030.
During the pilot Cancer Alliances developed schemes locally. A national programme will benefit from an integrated IT system and a safe, consistent and effective programme across the country and for a number of years.
Simon Castle, Deputy Director of Cancer, diagnostics, and end of life care at NHS Nottingham and Nottinghamshire, said: “The earlier lung cancer is identified means there will, most likely, be less invasive treatment needed, better recovery and better outcomes. That’s why it is so important that people who are invited take up this offer. The Targeted Lung Health Check programme started in Mansfield and Ashfield and has since been rolled out across Nottingham city. This life-saving programme is improving early diagnosis and helping patients to receive timely treatment which is undoubtedly helping to save people’s lives.
“I would urge anyone who receives an invite from the Targeted Lung Health Check programme, even if you don’t have any symptoms, to take up the offer of a free check-up, it could save your life. If you do have symptoms and you’re worried it could be cancer, please don’t delay in coming forward – your GP will want to see you.”
Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, Michelle Mitchell, said: “This is really positive news for a cancer type that takes more lives than any other. Targeted lung screening across England could diagnose people most at risk at an earlier stage, when treatment is more likely to be successful.
Paula Chadwick, chief executive of Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, said: “This is the news we have been waiting for. This is the day we truly begin to level up the lung cancer playing field.
“Lung cancer screening allows us to get ahead of this awful disease for the first time, catching it at the earliest opportunity – often before symptoms even start – and treating it with an aim to cure. Through the success of NHS England’s targeted lung health check programme, we have been able to detect 76% of cancers at stages one and two, which turns current rates on their head. Now, with this announcement, many more lives will be saved, making today a very good day in our mission to beat the UK’s biggest cancer killer.”
Hazel Cheeseman Deputy Chief Executive of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) said: “Targeted Lung Cancer screening with support to stop smoking at its heart will help prevent as well as treat lung cancer, still the leading cause of cancer deaths. Around 7 out of 10 lung cancers are caused by smoking and just over a third of lung cancer patients are smoking at diagnosis. Smokers who quit then can nearly double their life expectancy after treatment and live more comfortably than those who continue to smoke. And it won’t just help those diagnosed with lung cancer, smokers who get the all clear but go on to quit will avoid many smoking-related illnesses. Smokers who get support and medication as part of their Lung Health Check are 50% more likely to quit than those who don’t. This is a major step forward in helping deliver the Government’s Smokefree 2030 ambition.”