Lung cancer causes more deaths than any other cancer in the UK. There are often no signs or symptoms of lung cancer at an early stage. The TLHC programme aims to find lung cancer early, sometimes before symptoms present. 72% of lung cancer cases are linked to smoking, which makes current or former smokers at a higher risk of developing lung cancer.
Lung health checks are offered to current or former smokers aged 55 to 74 and are currently only available in some parts of England, with the aim of reaching national coverage by March 2029.
What is a lung health check?
At a lung health check appointment a participant is asked questions about their health and lifestyle, for example their smoking history, height and weight. Some locations also offer spirometry. If they reach the risk threshold, the participant will be invited for a CT scan. If they do not reach the risk threshold, they will be discharged from the programme. Current smokers will be given an opt-out referral to a smoking cessation service.
To date, just over 1 million invites have been sent and over 2,500 lung cancers have been found through the programme, 75% of which were diagnosed at stages 1 or 2. This compares to 28.9% of lung cancers being diagnosed at stage 1 or 2 without screening.
Health inequalities and TLHCs
The programme has prioritised rolling out in areas of highest deprivation first, and will continue to expand to the rest of England between now and 2029.
This is helping to reduce health inequalities in cancer outcomes; in April, the programme announced that people living in the most deprived areas of England are now more likely to be diagnosed with lung cancer at an earlier stage, compared to their counterparts in less derived areas. thanks to the success of NHS lung trucks. The data shows that for the first time ever, more than a third of people living in the most deprived fifth of England who were diagnosed with lung cancer, were diagnosed at stage one or two (34.5%) - up from 30% in 2019.
People 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.