An innovative health check has identified 100 people in Liverpool who have one of the most feared forms of cancer, with 80 having had curative treatment.
Every year, over 500 people are diagnosed with lung cancer in Liverpool, nearly double the national average.
Lung cancer is difficult to diagnose early, with symptoms often only showing when lung cancer is at a more advanced stage (stages 3 and 4). Typically, in Liverpool, 70% of lung cancer diagnoses are made at stages 3 or 4.
The earlier that lung cancer and respiratory conditions are spotted, the simpler and more successful treatment is. The Liverpool Healthy Lung Programme, commissioned by Liverpool Commissioning Group (CCG), has found a way to catch lung cancer early and treat it with curative intent.
Launching in 2016, Liverpool residents aged 58-75 with a history of smoking are invited to a lung health check by their GP. Those then deemed high risk are offered CT scan, which they can have at one of three local hospital sites, Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital NHS Foundation Trust or the recently merged Aintree and Royal Liverpool Hospitals (now known as Liverpool University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust).
Over 13,000 people have taken up the opportunity so far, with nearly 5,000 people having had a CT scan at one of the local hospitals. The programme has now diagnosed and treated 100 cases of lung cancer, as well as other types of cancer, which averages at around two or three new diagnoses every month over the life of the programme. Significantly, over 80% of those diagnosed were at an early stage and treated with curative intent.
The programme has been so successful it has led to NHS England investing around £70million to fund similar programmes in other areas in other areas across the country.
Martin Ledson, Chest Consultant at Liverpool Heart and Chest NHS Hospital Foundation Trust said:
“We are extremely proud to reach this milestone and potentially save the lives of 100 Liverpool residents. Without this programme, these people may have been diagnosed a much later stage and had a very different experience.
“Lung cancer is notoriously difficult to diagnose early and, as a result, long term survival lags significantly behind that of other forms of cancer.
“The Liverpool Healthy Lung Programme has found a way to change this and could be the starting point in improving lung cancer survival rates, both locally and nationally. Our success has played a crucial part in NHS England’s decision to roll out similar programmes across the country.”
Over 33,000 people registered with a Liverpool GP have now been invited for a lung health check, with residents of Childwall, Wavertree, Allerton, Aigburth, Woolton, Speke and Garston the latest to be offered this life-saving opportunity.
However, on average, only 40% of those invited take up the offer. The programme has now teamed up with Liverpool-based charity, Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, to try to improve this.
Paula Chadwick, the chief executive of Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, said:
“Many people have a fatalistic reception of lung cancer. They believe it can’t be cured and therefore if they do have it, they’d rather not know because they think nothing can be done.
“But this isn’t the case, as the Liverpool Healthy Lung Programme so wonderfully demonstrates. It proves if lung cancer is caught early, then curative treatment is possible.
“We are so lucky, as residents of Liverpool, to have this opportunity and we want to do everything we can to encourage as many people as possible to take up the invitation. Not only could it save your life, it could also save others; if these lung health programmes are successful, it could help implement a national lung cancer screening programme which would revolutionise long term survival.”
One patient who has already benefitted from the screening is Glenys, 64 from West Derby. She is now urging everyone who receives an invitation to go, including her husband:
“I am so incredibly grateful to the Liverpool Healthy Lung Programme. It’s just marvellous.
“I received my letter and booked an appointment straight away. At the initial appointment, I was asked if I would go for a CT scan and, even though I was a little nervous, I said yes and thank goodness I did.
“I had a nodule on my right lung which turned out to be lung cancer. At the time, I was terrified. I didn’t think there was a cure for lung cancer, so I believed I was going to die. But treatments have come a long way and, because of this programme, it was found early and I could have surgery.
“I went in on the Tuesday and was home by Friday. I was a little sore, as you’d expect, and a bit tired but apart from that I’ve recovered really well and don’t even notice that a part of my lung is missing!”
While diagnosing lung cancer early is one of the programme’s key aims, it is by no means the only objective. The health check gives people the opportunity to improve their overall lung health and quit smoking, as well as diagnosing other respiratory conditions such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).
Previous independent evaluation has shown that 10% of those attending the lung health check without a pre-existing diagnosis of COPD will in due course be diagnosed with and treated for, COPD following this breathing test. The majority were diagnosed with mild stage COPD. The diagnosis of COPD at an early stage enables early intervention and is likely to be associated with better outcomes and improved quality of life.
“If you are lucky enough to be invited to the lung health check like I was, please go. In fact, you’re mad if you don’t go! I know it’s scary but, even if you are diagnosed with something, it is so much better to get it early. I’ve just enjoyed a wonderful Christmas with my two grandkids, and I’m going to get to have many more because I went for that check-up.”
For more information about the Liverpool Healthy Lung Programme, visit https://www.liverpoolccg.nhs.uk/health-and-services/healthy-lungs/
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with lung cancer, Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation can offer help and support. Visit www.roycastle.org or call its free nurse-led helpline on 0800 358 7200.
Liverpool Commissioning Group and Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation are set to raise awareness for the disease with a giant inflatable lung at Hunts Cross ASDA, on Friday, January 24.
¹ Liverpool’s Joint Strategic Needs Assessment Cancer September 2016.