Drive to up lung cancer survival
Leading experts have called for a push to double lung cancer survival rates in the UK over the next decade.
The UK Lung Cancer Coalition has put together a 12-point plan for better detection and treatment as well as more funding for research.
UK survival rates for lung cancer are among the worse in Europe and there are big variations around the country.
The government said its Cancer Reform Strategy, to be published at the end of 2007, would help to improve survival.
Lung cancer kills more people every year than breast cancer, prostate cancer, bladder cancer and leukaemia combined, accounting for one in four cancer deaths.
Half of all lung cancer patients die within six months of diagnosis.
A recent analysis of European survival rates showed only Malta had lower five-year survival rates than the UK.
Just over 8% of patients in Scotland and England are still alive five years after diagnosis compared with almost 17% of lung cancer patients in Iceland, the UKLCC said.
Development of screening programmes, better funding of research, earlier diagnosis and greater equity of access to lung cancer specialists would all improve survival rates, they added.
Dame Gill Oliver, UKLCC chair, said the differences in survival across Europe were “alarming” but there were also unacceptable inequalities closer to home.
“Despite service improvements, you are four times more likely to survive lung cancer in some parts of England than others,” she said.
“One of the problems is people present to their doctor late because they don’t understand what the symptoms of lung cancer are.
“Also there is a degree of stigma attached to lung cancer as a smoker’s disease although some people with the disease have never smoked.
“And there can be a degree of nihilism among some physicians.”
Among the proposals is a call for a national lung cancer screening pilot to work out who would most benefit from tests to pick up early signs of the disease.
Faster access to diagnostic tests and wider access to active treatment such as surgery are also proposed.
Dr Mick Peake, chair of the UKLCC’s clinical sub-group and NHS national clinical lead for lung cancer, said that in Leicester, where he worked, they had managed to make big improvements since the 1990s, when they had one of the worst survival rates in the country.
“You need to have really specialist surgeons and a multidisciplinary team of doctors.
“At the moment there just aren’t enough specialists.”
He also said patients were often referred late and GPs needed to have a very high index of suspicion.
A Department of Health spokesperson said: “We accept that further improvements in cancer services are needed to continue to reduce the gap between us and the rest of northern and western Europe.
“Poor survival rates in England can be attributed mainly to patients having more advanced disease at diagnosis than patients in other European countries.
“We know that more needs to be done to help the public to spot the symptoms of cancer. “Through the Cancer Reform Strategy, which we expect to publish by the end of the year, we will see further improvements in survival rates.”
Maxine Taylor, executive director of policy and communications at Cancer Research UK, who advised the UKLCC, said: “Lung cancer is often found at a late stage which makes it harder to treat successfully - and this is why research into possible screening methods, as well as awareness of key symptoms, is so crucial.”