Up to 9,000 cases of lung cancer could be caught sooner or prevented under a new screening programme set to be rolled out across the country.
The scheme could provide almost one million scans and earlier treatment.
It is set to cost £270m annually once fully established and will use patients’ GP records for those aged 55 to 74 to identify current or former smokers.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak suggests the scheme could provide “a lifeline to thousands of families across the country”.
Under the programme, backed by a recommendation from the UK National Screening Committee, 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 newly eligible for a first scan each year, with 992,000 scans expected per year in total.
The Department of Health and Social Care said the first phase of the scheme will reach 40% of the eligible population by March 2025, with the aim of 100% coverage by March 2030 following the rollout.
The rollout comes after a successful earlier phase which saw approximately 70% of the screenings take place in mobile units parked in convenient sites such as supermarket car parks.
This helped ensure easy access and focused on more deprived areas, where people are four times more likely to smoke.
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The number of times vaping has been cited as a cause for serious illness has soared.
The first phase of the targeted lung health check scheme by NHS England resulted in more than 2,000 people being detected as having cancer, while 76% were found at an earlier stage compared to 29% in 2019 outside the programme.
In total, during the initial phase almost 900,000 people were invited for checks, 375,000 risk assessments made and 200,000 scans were carried out.
Smoking causes 72% of lung cancers, around 35,000 people die and 48,000 people are diagnosed with lung cancer each year.
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It has one of the lowest survival rates of all cancers, which is largely attributed to lung cancer being diagnosed at a late stage when treatment is much less likely to be effective.
Anyone assessed as being at high risk of lung cancer will be referred to have a low dose Computed Tomography (LDCT) scan, with a diagnosis and treatment to follow if needed.
Anyone whose scans are negative will be reinvited for further scans every 24 months, until they pass the upper age limit.
NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard said: “Identifying lung cancer early saves lives, and the expansion of the NHS’s targeted lung health check programme is another landmark step forward in our drive to find and treat more people living with this devastating disease at the earliest stage.
“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.”
Hazel Cheeseman, the deputy chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health, said: “Targeted lung cancer screening with support to stop smoking at its heart will help prevent as well as treat lung cancer, still the leading cause of cancer deaths.”
But Labour accused the government of “disarming” the health service.
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: “We need a war on cancer, but the Conservatives have spent a decade disarming the NHS.”
Written by: Newsroom