UK offers free lung cancer CT scan screening for ex-smokers in early detection drive

In efforts to increase earlier detection and treatment of lung cancer, NHS England is offering free lung screening for all middle-aged people who have ever smoked, with the disease killing about 35 000 people a year and accounting for one in five of all cancer deaths.

It also has one of the worst cancer survival rates, mainly because diagnoses at a late stage mean treatment is less likely to be effective.

Under the programme, about 1m screenings of people aged 55 to 74 will be carried out every year, reports The Guardian.

This follows a successful pilot of the scheme in deprived areas of the country where people are four times more likely to smoke. More than 2 000 people were detected as having cancer, 76% of them at an earlier stage compared with 29% outside the programme in 2019.

The programme expects the lung cancers of about 9 000 people a year to be caught sooner.

Backed by a recommendation from the UK national screening committee, patients will have their risk of cancer assessed based on their smoking history and other factors: those considered high risk will be invited for specialist scans every two years.

The roll-out is expected to mean 325 000 people will become eligible for a first scan each year, with 992 000 scans a year in total. The first phase will reach 40% of the eligible population by March 2025, officials said, with 100% coverage by March 2030.

The pilot programme saw about 70% of screenings taking place in mobile units parked in sites like supermarket car parks, enabling easy and convenient patient access.

Anyone assessed as being at high risk of lung cancer will be referred for a low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) scan, with a diagnosis and treatment to follow if needed.

Those whose scans are negative will be invited for further scans every 24 months until they pass the upper age limit.