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Targeted lung cancer screening to be rolled out to all people with a history of smoking

The long-awaited announcement that targeted lung cancer screening will be implemented for people aged 55 to 74 and are identified as being high risk for lung cancer, was shared by the government on Monday 26 June.

Around 48,000 people are still diagnosed with lung cancer every year, with approximately 35,000 dying from the disease annually.

The screening programme was recommended by the UK National Screening Committee in June 2022, and it will now sit alongside screening programmes for cervical cancer, breast cancer and bowel cancer.

Screening for all cancers is an invaluable resource but it will have a huge impact on preventing and treating lung cancer when you consider the statistics below:

  • Lung cancer has one of the worst survival rates;
  • It's the third most common cancer in the UK and the disease accounts for 21% of deaths and 13% of all new UK cancer cases;
  • Around 14,300 cases of lung cancer each year in the UK are linked with deprivation; and
  • It's been estimated that lung cancer costs the NHS in England approximately £307m per year.

Lung cancer survival rates also vary widely and it's often diagnosed at a late stage when treatment options are limited and less likely to be offered. Early screening will have a very positive impact on improving lung cancer survival rates, ensuring people can access early treatment and reducing the health inequalities that we currently see in cancer care.

How will it be implemented?

Anyone who is aged 55 to 74 and is a current or former smoker will be requested to attend for screening following a review of their GP records and an assessment where other factors will be considered in identifying if they are high risk.

The first phase of the scheme is to be implemented by March 2025 and will reach 40% of the eligible population with an aim of 100% coverage by March 2030.

It's also recognised that the rollout of the scheme will require more equipment and estimated that 992,000 scans will take place in one year.

Importantly, the government also recognises that the NHS workforce will need to grow in order to deliver the programme and the government is looking at appointing more radiographers as part of its long-term plans.

At Irwin Mitchell, we've been supporting the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation to raise awareness of the lung cancer screening programme and I've learnt first-hand the importance of working with local communities and healthcare professionals to encourage people who receive an invitation for screening to attend.  I believe we can all play a part in changing the future of lung cancer by sharing this good news with friends, family members and colleagues and providing support where necessary.

Paula Chadwick, Chief Executive of the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation said: "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 it a very good day in our mission to beat the UK’s biggest cancer killer."

What else will it do?

Lung cancer screening will also provide additional support to people who are not diagnosed with cancer.  People who smoke will also be offered smoking cessation services and these services will play an important part in preventing lung cancer and other smoking related diseases.

The screening may also detect other respiratory illnesses such as silicosis and asbestos-related diseases and cancers, including mesothelioma.

In my role as a solicitor at Irwin Mitchell, I've seen professionally the difference that early detection can make for someone after they have attended a lung screening programme, providing them with the information that they need at an early stage to be able to make informed choices about treatment options.  I've also personally experienced the devastating effect that a late diagnosis can have.

As many healthcare professionals, charities and government representatives have commented so far, the roll-out of lung cancer screening will help detect cancer sooner and save lives. The screening programme will also form an important part of the lung cancer pathway and make a very positive difference for so many in the future.

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting people and families affected by lung cancer at our dedicated section on the website.