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England’s first-ever lung cancer screening programme to see national rollout

All smokers and ex-smokers aged 55-74 will have their risk of cancer assessed in the England’s first-ever national lung cancer screening programme.

The programme will be based on the Targeted Lung Health Check (TLHC) programme, which has been piloted in parts of England.

Under the plans, which will cost £270m annually once fully implemented, GP records will be used to identify patients for screening.

The first phase of the lung cancer screening scheme will reach 40% of the eligible population by March 2025, with the aim of 100% coverage by March 2030, the Government’s announcement said.

Patients will have their risk of cancer assessed based on their smoking history and other factors and those considered high risk will be invited for specialist scans every two years.

It is estimated the rollout will mean 325,000 people will be eligible for a first scan each year with 992,000 scans expected per year in total.

Easy access to lung cancer screening

The UK National Screening Committee recommended in November that all four nations in the UK should implement a national lung cancer screening programme.

It said the TLHC programme would be a ‘practical starting point’ for implementation in England while a UK-wide programme needed ‘more modelling’.

During the pilots, approximately 70% of the screening took place in mobile units to ‘ensure easy access’ and ‘focused on more deprived areas where people are four times more likely to smoke’.

Almost 900,000 people were invited for checks, 375,000 risk assessments made and 200,000 scans were carried out.

Of these, more than 2,000 people were detected as having lung cancer, with 76% identified at an earlier stage compared to 29% identified outside of the pilot programme in 2019.

Urging patients receiving an invitation for lung cancer screening to go to their GP and take it up, NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard said: ‘The NHS lung trucks programme is already delivering life-changing results, with people living in the most deprived areas now more likely to be diagnosed at an earlier stage, giving them a better chance of successful treatment.’

Health secretary Steve Barclay said: ‘Through our [lung cancer] screening programme we are now seeing more diagnoses at stage 1 and stage 2 in the most deprived communities, which is both a positive step and a practical example of how we are reducing health inequalities.

‘Rolling this out further will prolong lives by catching cancer earlier and reducing the levels of treatment required not just benefiting the patient but others waiting for treatment.

‘I am determined to combat cancer on all fronts through better prevention, detection, treatment and research.‘

‘Sufficient diagnostic equipment and staff‘

Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, Michelle Mitchell, said: ‘This is really positive news for a cancer type that takes more lives than any other. Targeted lung screening across England could diagnose people most at risk at an earlier stage, when treatment is more likely to be successful.   

‘For the screening programme to succeed, the UK Government must ensure that sufficient diagnostic equipment and staff are in place – a comprehensive and fully-funded NHS workforce plan for England will be vital to this. 

‘Given smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, it’s good to see that smoking cessation will be part of the programme. This needs to be embedded across all sites and stop smoking services must be properly funded to ensure people can quit smoking for good.

‘Other UK nations now need to follow suit to ensure everyone eligible can benefit from these potentially lifesaving lung checks.‘

A version of this story was originally published by our sister publication Pulse.