The Primary Care Respiratory Society

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Early diagnosis increases lung cancer survival rates


Three in four people with lung cancer are diagnosed too late to receive potentially curative treatment, says a new report by the UK Lung Cancer Coalition (UKLCC).

Patients diagnosed at the earliest stage of lung cancer are almost five times more likely to survive a year after diagnosis than those diagnosed in the later stages.

But only a quarter (27%) of lung cancer patients in England receive an early diagnosis (stage I or II) and only around three quarters (72.6%) get treatment within the current 62-day national cancer waiting time standard.

“Unwarranted delays in treatment, even at the early stages, can allow a tumour to grow by just a few millimetres which can have a dramatic effect on someone’s chance of survival,” says Professor Mick Peake (Chair), Clinical Director, Centre for Cancer Outcomes, Cancer Collaborative, UCLH and Chair of the UKLCC’s Clinical Advisory Group.

Called Millimetres Matter, the report highlights variations in survival and treatment interventions and calls for implementation of a standardised care pathway for lung cancer patients, faster access to diagnostic tests and treatment and reduced waiting times.

Carol Stonham, PCRS Vice Chair says: “Early diagnosis really makes a difference to patients surviving lung cancer. Treatments have advanced but rely on the professional asking the right questions, picking up on cues and acting on suspicions to access the optimal treatment pathway quickly.

“If you think ‘could it be lung cancer?’ act swiftly. The difference between treatable and incurable disease may be in your hands - the size of the lesion determines the outcome for the person in front of you and we know that millimetres matter.”

Dr Steve Holmes, PCRS Education Lead, says: “It is a real challenge in primary care to pick up the symptoms or signs of lung cancer at an early stage - and get our patients quickly into the fast track cancer system. It is equally vital that our patients get timely and rapid assessment thereafter to diagnose accurately and treat appropriately.

“We are working across boundaries now to try and get better outcomes for our patients with lung cancer - and this document highlights that we are making progress but can drive improvements if we understand that millimetres do matter when identifying, diagnosing and starting treatment for cancer.

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