Following new guidance from the UK National Screening Committee (UKNSC), the national cancer screening programme — which already tests for breast, cervix and bowel cancer — is to be extended to include testing for lung cancer. The programme is likely to offer CT scans to smokers (past and current) aged 55-74 in light of evidence that it could help to catch ‘silent’ cancers (cancers that do not cause symptoms) at an earlier stage, when they are more likely to be treatable.
Lung cancer is the commonest type of cancer and the most frequent cause of cancer-related death in the UK and Western world. There are 49,000 new cases every year in the UK and 35,000 deaths. Smoking remains by far the biggest risk factor for lung cancer, accounting for more than 70 per cent of all cases. The risk of cancer drops dramatically when you stop smoking, but it never returns to normal, with recent research suggesting that smokers who quit 25 years ago are still three times more likely to develop lung cancer compared with those who have never smoked.
A patient’s prognosis, once diagnosed with lung cancer, is poor, with only around 9% of patients who are treated for their cancer surviving five years. This statistic is linked to the fact that many patients attend their doctors when they are symptomatic and often their cancer has already grown and is in the advanced stage, at which point it may not be amenable to surgery - fewer than 15% of newly diagnosed patients with lung cancer in the UK are suitable for surgery when their cancer is diagnosed. Accordingly, to improve survival, lung cancer needs to be detected earlier, when surgery is possible.
To gain approval from the UKNSC, new programmes must offer a simple, safe, and reliable test to detect cancer. The new screening programme for lung cancer will offer patients a CT scan, which is quick, accurate and effective. Studies demonstrate that screening high-risk people like smokers and former smokers can catch cancers earlier and reduce the chances of the disease killing them. The aim will be to improve survival prospects of patients with lung cancer and it makes sense, therefore, that a screening programme is being introduced.
Arran Macleod, a solicitor in the clinical negligence team specialising in cases relating to delayed diagnosis of cancers, comments: “It is excellent to read that the UKNSC will be introducing a new screening programme for lung cancer. Research has demonstrated that – as with most cancers - the earlier the disease is detected, the better the outcome. The problem with lung cancer is that noticeable symptoms often develop when the disease has already grown and has reached more advanced stages. As can be seen, prospects of survival when the cancer is in its more advanced stages are poor. A screening programme for patients at increased risk of cancer could very well result in an increase in diagnosis of earlier stage cancers, and improve patient outcomes in terms of survival.
We have acted for many patients and families who have been affected by lung cancer diagnoses. We are most often contacted about concerns relating to a missed diagnosis or delays in treatment. One of the commonest mistakes that we see is in relation to interpreting and reporting the CT scan or chest X-ray, which has been conducted to assess for the presence of cancer. If a lesion in the lungs is overlooked, or incorrectly reported as being benign, the patient will be falsely reassured only for their cancer to continue growing and developing without treatment. In our experience, this delay in diagnosis very often causes a worse overall outcome for the patient than if the radiology had been correctly reported and the patient diagnosed earlier.”
If you have any concerns about delays in the treatment of your cancer, please do not hesitate to contact one of the specialist oncology solicitors in the clinical negligence team.