UK health agency recommends lung screening for all current smokers over 55
Anyone over 55 who has ever smoked should be offered lung cancer screening, in the hopes of detecting more cases of the deadly illness that kills about 35 000 people a year in Britain, says the UK National Screening Committee (UKNSC).
The proposals call for the mass rollout of checks to tackle the most common cause of cancer deaths, reports the Daily Telegraph, with the committee saying that all former and current smokers aged 55 to 74 should be invited to an assessment by a health professional, and those deemed at high risk of lung cancer offered a low dose CT scan.
Lung cancer is Britain’s most common cause of cancer death, with smoking the most common cause. Every year there are 48 000 diagnoses and about 35 000 deaths.
Experts say patients’ outcomes are consistently poor, partly because so many cases are picked up late. More than half of those diagnosed with stage one lung cancer will survive their cancer for five years or more after diagnosis. But fewer than five in 100 people diagnosed with stage four disease are still alive five years later.
Cancer Research UK has welcomed the recommendation, urging governments to roll it out as swiftly as possible.
Decisions will be made by ministers, who have normally accepted the recommendations from the UKNSC. However, implementation of some proposals has taken many years.
One pilot scheme that placed mobile CT scanners in shopping centre car parks quadrupled the number of cases of lung cancer detected at stage one or two, when it is more likely to be curable. In total, 80% of cases were found at these stages, against normal detection rates of 20%.
‘Screening could save lives’
Dr Ian Walker, Cancer Research UK’s executive director of policy, said: “We welcome this recommendation and urge governments in all four UK nations to roll out a targeted lung cancer screening programme as swiftly as possible.
“Lung cancer causes more deaths in the UK than any other cancer type, and screening could save lives by diagnosing people at an earlier stage – when treatment is more likely to be successful.”
The last time the UKNSC formally considered screening for lung cancer was 15 years ago, when it recommended against the checks.
The new advice said the approach would cut lung cancer deaths, calling for modelling work to assist detailed recommendations. It also said anyone undergoing screening who still smokes should be given advice on quitting the habit.
Smoking is responsible for more than 70% of lung cancers and increases the risk of at least 14 other types of cancer.
The checks are already being offered under pilot schemes in 23 parts of the country.
No such checks are offered in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, with the UKNSC warning that this could mean it takes longer for the schemes to be introduced.
Earlier this year Sajid Javid, the former health secretary, promised a “war on cancer”, with a 10-year strategy to improve diagnosis and treatment.
Charities have called on Therese Coffey, his successor, to publish such a plan, amid warnings that almost 55 000 cancer patients in the past six years have faced delays in diagnosis or treatment.