Over 32,000 residents in the East of England have now come forward for free Targeted Lung Health Checks (TLHCs), with 92,000 people having received an invitation and more invites on the way, health professionals are encouraging people to book their appointments.
The lung health checks are being offered to those living in areas where there is a high incidence of lung cancer, who are aged between 55 and 74, and who are at an increased risk due to their history of smoking.
As a result of the lung health check assessments 150 cases of lung cancer have been identified, with the majority of them (103 cases or 69% of the total detected) having been picked up at an early stage (stage one or two) amongst people with no symptoms.
Lung cancer is usually diagnosed late as it tends to present with symptoms once the illness has progressed to a later stage. Identifying cases at an earlier stage ensures a much better chance of successful treatment.
Targeted Lung Health Checks have been offered at various sites across the East of England, including Great Yarmouth, Southend, Luton, Thurrock, Peterborough, Clacton, Harlow and central Bedfordshire. These areas are ones with higher mortality and later diagnoses from lung cancer, compared to elsewhere in the region.
It is intended to expand the service so that by 2030 all eligible people in the East of England will have been invited for a checkup.
The programme will be rolled out nationally over the coming years with the aim of reaching 40% of the eligible population by March 2025 and 100% coverage by March 2030. The targeted lung health checks are part of the biggest programme to improve early lung cancer diagnosis in health service history.
Over one million people have been invited for a Targeted Lung Health Check across the country so far. NHS leaders are urging everyone who receives an invite to attend, regardless of whether they think they are in good health or not.
Malcolm Lawson, East of England Lead for Lung Cancer, said: “We are seeing some really positive engagement by residents with the Targeted Lung Health Check initiative in the East of England.
“Over 32,000 residents have come forward for lung health checks in the region so far, making significant in-roads into the early detection of lung cancer. The health checks have also enabled us to identify other types of respiratory conditions among people at higher risk.
“We are keen for people to take part so if you do receive an invite please do come forward and book an appointment.
“Catching cancer early makes it more treatable. 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.”
The Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation is working with NHS England to promote lung health checks and encourage people to take part in the screening programme.
Paula Chadwick, Chief Executive of the 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.”
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 – 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.