NHS England invites more than one million people for lung cancer checks

More than one million people (1,052,083) have been invited for a lung cancer check, as part of the biggest programme to improve early lung cancer diagnosis in health service history.

The NHS has invited former and current smokers to attend a consultation in convenient locations such as football stadiums, shopping car parks and town centres with on-the-spot chest scans for those at highest risk.

Almost 2,400 cancers have already been caught through the Targeted Lung Health Check Programme with around three-quarters caught at the earliest stages of one and two, where survival chances are much higher.

Dozens of scanning sites have been set up in areas with the highest rates of mortality from lung cancer in a bid to ramp up earlier detection of the disease, as the NHS prepares for a national roll out.

The news comes as a record 335,000 people have started treatment for cancer in the last year (July 2022 to June 2023), up by over 20,000 on the same period before the pandemic (July 2018 to June 2019).

NHS leaders are urging everyone who receives an invite for a lung health check to attend, regardless of whether they think they are in good health or not.

NHS National Clinical Director for Cancer, Professor Peter Johnson said: “The NHS Targeted Lung Check Programme is the latest in a serious of measures to catch cancer early with almost 2,400 people diagnosed with cancer through this alone, alongside record numbers receiving treatment for cancer over the last year thanks to the health service investing in the latest technology and treatments for patients.

“Symptoms of lung cancer can include a long-standing cough and persistent breathlessness and former or current smokers are most at risk.

“Catching cancer early makes it more treatable, so if something in your body doesn’t feel right make sure to speak to your GP and if you receive your invitation for a targeted lung health check, please attend”.

Health and Social Care Secretary, Steve Barclay said: “Cancer survival rates are improving with more people being seen and treated than ever before. However, 35,000 people still die from lung cancer every year and most of those are smokers or former smokers.

“That is why these lung cancer checks are so important and earlier this year we announced a national targeted screening programme, which includes using venues that makes it as easy as possible for people to get scanned.

“Thousands of cancers have already been detected earlier as a result, which can mean the difference between life and death”.

As the NHS prepares to roll the programme out nationally, aiming to catch lung cancer as early as possible among former and current smokers aged 55 to 74. The first phase of the rollout will focus on reaching 40% of the eligible population by March 2025 with the aim of 100% coverage by March 2030.

Those diagnosed with lung cancer at stages one or two are nearly 20 times more likely to survive for five years or more than those whose cancer is caught at later stages. 72% of lung cancers are a result of smoking, causing around 35,000 deaths each year.

Paula Chadwick, Chief Executive of Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, said: “When it comes to diagnosing lung cancer, speed is paramount. This milestone means more people are being given the opportunity to get that potentially life-saving diagnosis.

“The NHS is playing its part in improving the earlier diagnosis of lung cancer but invitees have to play theirs too.

“We have seen many examples of people being diagnosed with early stage lung cancer who didn’t have any symptoms. This is why it is so important to have the check even if you feel well. These checks are here to help, so let them help!”

Cancer Research UK’s Chief Executive, Michelle Mitchell said: “Lung cancer takes more lives than any other cancer, but an early diagnosis can greatly improve the chance of survival. That’s why lung health checks for people at high risk of the disease are so important. It’s a testament to hard working NHS staff that over one million eligible people in England have been invited to attend an appointment and we urge people to take up this potentially lifesaving offer.

“Stop smoking support is a crucial part of these lung health checks, so it’s essential that people can access help to quit – both during and following the programme. Governments in other UK nations now need to follow suit and roll out targeted lung checks”.

Stacey, a nurse working in one of the targeted lung health check clinics in Cornwall, explained her mother was diagnosed with lung cancer 16 years ago and now uses her experiences of handling a family member with cancer for her current role.

Stacey said: “My mum, Karen, started to have a persistent cough and was sleeping a lot. She was very independent and worked incredibly hard, she never had a day off, so it was strange to see her go to the hospital.

“She was diagnosed with lung cancer and from that day I was Mum’s sidekick, and she was my priority”.

After time, Stacey’s mother was admitted to Derriford Hospital where she had both chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

She continued: “We had good and bad days, but it was her birthday, and she had been making progress, so we thought she was coming home.

“We put up birthday balloons and banners, but we got a call and were told she was getting worse. We rushed to the hospital to see her and later that day, she died in our arms, on her 50th birthday”.

Around 16 years later, Stacey works in a targeted lung health check clinic helping diagnose people with lung cancer.

She said: “I feel my experience and history puts me in the position to understand the feelings and thoughts of our patients. Two of these patients were my dad John Martyr and his second wife also called Karen.

“Thanks to the targeted lung health check, Karen was diagnosed early and after three months of treatment, the cancer is shrinking. I can’t stress enough how important it is for you to come forward and get the scan when offered, because it could save your life”.

Maxine, 60, had been a design technology technician at Bradford’s Allerton Academy for 16 years and had worked in education for around 30 years.

As a smoker, she was invited to a lung check which found cancer. The busy mum-of-one is now urging more people to come forward for the health checks when they’re offered.

Maxine said: “I didn’t consider myself a heavy smoker. I felt fine and had no symptoms whatsoever, but then I started to notice that I had a bad chest. I went along to the check, thinking everything was normal”.

After a few simple questions, Maxine was invited to attend for a CT scan at a mobile unit close to her home in Manningham. She was able to book an 8am appointment, meaning she could attend before work, and the scan took just 10-15 minutes from start to finish.

Her results were shared with her a week later and the scan had shown an active nodule on her left lung that warranted further investigation and she was referred for a PET scan at the mobile unit sited at Bradford Royal Infirmary.

She added: “Shortly after, I was diagnosed with stage one lung cancer. It can be deadly and luckily, they managed to catch it early. I’m now being treated, and I would strongly urge anyone who’s worried to take up the invite and come forward, it’s well worth it”.

Cancer survival is at an all-time high in England and the latest data shows the NHS is diagnosing more patients with cancer at an earlier stage than ever before, when it is easier to treat – over 100,000 (104,012) patients were diagnosed with cancer at stages one or two when it is easier to treat between 2021 and 2022 – the highest proportion on record.

Thanks to the Targeted Lung Health Check Programme, those who are in the most deprived areas in England are also now the most likely to be diagnosed with lung cancer at an earlier stage – reversing a long-standing trend and up from 30% in 2019 to 34.5% in 2022.

Following recommendations from the UK National Screening Committee and Government announcement in July 2023, this national lung screening programme is being rolled out across England and will use GP records to identify 55 to 74-year-olds who are current or former smokers.

Patients identified will have their risk of cancer assessed using their smoking history and those considered particularly at risk will be invited for lung scans every two years.

The targeted lung health checks have also identified thousands of people with other undiagnosed respiratory conditions, allowing them to get treatment much quicker and prevent potential hospitalisations.

Thanks to awareness campaigns and early diagnosis drives, the NHS has been seeing and treating record numbers of people for cancer, with over 2.8 million getting checked for cancer in 2022, and over 320,000 people received treatment for cancer in the same year – up on 2.35 million checks and 8,000 treatments in the same period before the pandemic.

The main symptoms of lung cancer include:

1.    a cough that does not go away after three weeks

2.    a long-standing cough that gets worse

3.    chest infections that keep coming back

4.    coughing up blood

5.    an ache or pain when breathing or coughing

6.    persistent breathlessness

7.    persistent tiredness or lack of energy

8.    loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss.