75% of patients are diagnosed too late
Leading cancer expert Prof John Field, from Liverpool University, warns that delaying national lung cancer screening could cost thousands of lives.
The academic believes that plans should start now for the UK wide screening of older smokers by the end of 2016, with US data suggesting that this style of screening can detect lung cancer early enough to prevent 20% of deaths. Approximately 70% of patients will survive the disease for a year or more if it is diagnosed at it’s earliest stage. Currently, 75% of lung cancer patients are being diagnosed too late to save their lives.
Prof Field, who is leading the UK Lung Cancer Screening trial (UKLS), said that in 2012 someone died of lung cancer in the European Union every two minutes. Lung cancer kills more than 35,000 people a year and is the biggest cause of cancer death in the UK.
Early detection vital
US guidelines suggest that older people with a history of heavy smoking should be offered annual low-dose CT scans to screen for lung cancer, with the test recommended for those aged between 55 and 80 who smoked a packet of cigarettes a day for 30 years, or the equivalent.
Prof Field told BBC News “The good news is that screening for lung cancer using low-dose computed tomography – CT scans – could reduce this enormous burden of mortality, through early detection and treatment that improves survival. Every year we delay could needlessly sacrifice tens of thousands to the world’s biggest cancer killer. It’s important that we start to plan for lung cancer screening in the UK. We now have a window of opportunity to do this as we await the Nelson and pooled European trial data, which will provide us with both cost-effectiveness and mortality data.”
Dr Anne Mackie, director of programmes for the UK National Screening Committee (NSC), part of Public Health England, said “A large European research study is testing whether screening can save lives and a UK pilot of lung screening in Liverpool is evaluating the effectiveness within the UK. We are in contact with scientists working in both studies and the results, as soon as they are available, will contribute to the UK NSC’s recommendation on whether to introduce a screening programme. A screening programme will only be recommended if the benefits clearly outweigh the harms following an assessment of the evidence against internationally agreed criteria.”