A landmark NHS plan to boost cancer survival will allow anyone who has ever smoked to be offered a lung check from middle age.
Ministers are set to support a recommendation from screening chiefs to support the mass rollout of CT scans in trucks and mobile units in the car parks of supermarkets. Three-quarters of lung cancer cases at stage one or two – when there is a higher likelihood it will be treatable – can be spotted by checks, results from pilot schemes have revealed.
Usually, most cases are discovered later, when the cancer is more progressed and treatment is considerably more involved and costly. The lung screening rollout is anticipated to be a part of multiple announcements this year to improve early diagnosis of cancer.
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Despite an official decision being yet to be made, the Department of Health and Social Care and Downing Street are said to be in discussions about funding levels for the programme, which would control the rollout’s speed.
The talks follow UK National Screening Committee (UKNSC)’s recommendations suggesting all former and current smokers aged between 55 and 74 should be invited to an assessment by a health professionals.
Under the recommendation anyone considered at a high risk of lung cancer would be offered a low-dose CT scan, The Telegraph reports. The UK’s lung cancer outcomes are regularly poor, with just a 15 per cent survival rate – somewhat as a result of most cases being diagnosed at late stages.
It is the most common cause of cancer death in Britain. Over half of people diagnosed with stage one lung cancer will live for five years or more after diagnoses, however just five per cent with stage four disease are not dead five years later. This follows Rishi Sunak’s vow to slash waiting lists before the next election, which appears unlikely due to NHS strikes and rising numbers.
Waiting lists contain a record 7.4 people, with the majority awaiting scans, tests and other outpatient appointments, instead of surgery. According to experts detecting cases sooner can reduce the amount of treatment required, which would assist in clearing backlogs and decreasing the strain it can heap on services in coming years, as well saving money.
Pilot schemes offer the checks in more than 43 parts of the country, with particular focus on more deprived areas.
The Healthy Secretary said on Tuesday (June 20) that the success of the trials has caused poorer areas to do better than more affluent ones in diagnosing lung cancer early.
Steve Barclay informed the House of Commons health and social care committee: “We are now actually detecting more stage one and two cancers in the most deprived communities than in the most affluent communities, and that is because of the lung cancer screening programme that we’ve got in place.”
He told the NHS Confed Expo conference in Manchester last week that the pilot schemes were “a positive step and a practical example of how we are addressing health inequalities”. In the immediate future the offering of checks to all smokers and ex-smokers will heap pressure on diagnostic services, and cause a need for more staff and clinics.
Each year there are nearly 50,000 lung cancer diagnoses in the UK, with around 35,000 deaths. The schemes comply with government promises to tackle Britain’s poor cancer survival rates.
The Government has vowed that by 2028 three in four cancers will be diagnosed early – an increase from around half. Over 70 per cent of lung cancers are caused by smoking, which also increases the risk of at least another 14 types of cancer.
Before the NHS’s 75th anniversary on July 5, a long-term workforce strategy is set to be unveiled by ministers that will reveal plans to train more diagnostic staff, with medical school places and roles for apprentice doctors and nurses also set to rise. The strategy’s draft has issued a warning that without fundamental action, there could be a gap of 500,000 workers in the NHS.
In 2022 screening advisers said that the pilot schemes at that point had provided a “feasible and effective starting point for implementation in England”. However in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland no such checks are offered, with the UKNSC warning last year that this could cause it to be a lengthier period before the schemes are to be introduced.
The pilot scheme’s latest outcomes are said to reveal that an estimated three-quarters of cases are being caught at stage one or two. In most cases around three-quarters are diagnosed in stages three and four, when the disease is much more lethal.