People in England are getting free lung cancer scans in the parking lots of their local supermarket. And data shows these efforts are getting those most at risk diagnosed quicker.
More than a third of people diagnosed with lung cancer in the most deprived parts of England had their disease spotted in the first two stages of development in 2022, data released by the National Health Service show.
This is an increase of around 4.5% on 2019: a boost the country’s National Health Service attributes to mobile screening centres that perform scans in the community.
Rather than traveling to hospitals, they’ve enabled members of the public to get their lungs checked for free in the parking lot of supermarkets and local health centres.
Of some 300,000 people scanned at 43 mobile sites, around 1,700 were diagnosed with lung cancer — 76% of whom were at an early stage of disease. Back in 2018, the year the truck service began, just 30% of lung cancers were caught early on.
Lung cancer is the deadliest cancer in England. It disproportionately affects those living in deprived areas, where there are often higher rates of smoking and other risk factors.
Members of the public are invited to attend screenings based on factors including past or present smoking status.
Finding the disease at an earlier stage of development can have a massive impact on survival. Those diagnosed at the earliest stage are nearly 20 times more likely than those diagnosed late to survive for at least five years, the NHS states.
It was hoped that bringing screening services out into convenient community sites would not only help improve early detection overall, but help tackle inequalities. This latest data seems to show these efforts are paying off.
Working with non-governmental organisation, the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, officials are launching a social media campaign to raise awareness of the service and encourage more people to attend their lung health checks.
Dame Cally Palmer, NHS England’s national director for cancer, called the findings “incredibly important” in a statement.
“They show the power behind targeted health programmes with the NHS continuing its drive to detect cancers earlier by going into the heart of communities that may be less likely to come forward.
“While early diagnosis rates for cancer have traditionally been lower for deprived groups, thanks to the rollout of lung trucks, the NHS has turned a huge corner – and is now finding and treating those who would otherwise have been undetected.
Paula Chadwick, chief executive of the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, said the scheme’s “wonderful progress” was “truly heartening.”
She added: “These checks are allowing us to get ahead of lung cancer for the first time, catching the disease at the earliest opportunity, often before symptoms even start, and treating it with an aim to cure.”
But despite these promising results, her NGO recently warned the impact of the pandemic was still being felt in both diagnosis and treatment.
A recent national audit showed that diagnosis rates have returned to pre-pandemic levels. But, the NGO said, lower rates in 2020 didn’t mean fewer people were developing lung cancer — just that it wasn’t being detected.
“Lung cancer never went away,” she said in a statement released earlier this month. Even when it’s caught early, she added, the audit revealed that not all patients were getting gold-standard care.
“Treatment for lung cancer is also improving, albeit slower than we would like. The surgical rate for lung cancer, which we recognise as the best form of curative-intent treatment, has not returned its pre-pandemic levels,” she said.
The audit showed that 79% of people with early stage lung cancer got these surgeries — an improvement of 4% on the year before, but still below the national target of 80%.
“It can be difficult to catch lung cancer early so when it happens, we need to ensure patients have the opportunity to receive life-saving treatment, she added.”