Royal Marsden researchers supporting NHS England’s Targeted Lung Health Check programme

Royal Marsden researchers have been supporting NHS England’s Targeted Lung Health Check programme which is piloting lung health checks in areas of high lung cancer incidence, including Hillingdon and Sutton.

Dr Richard Lee, Consultant Physician in Respiratory Medicine at The Royal Marsden in Medical Day Unit, Chelsea

The Targeted Lung Health Check project in west London was developed by RM Partners West London Cancer Alliance in collaboration with the Royal Brompton Hospital. Its aim is to improve early diagnosis of lung conditions, including cancer, before symptoms are noticeable and when any necessary treatment is likely to be more successful.

The initiative, which is part of the NHS England national pilot project, invites people who have been identified as being at increased risk of lung cancer due to their age and smoking history for a lung health check. Depending on the results, people may then be offered a low-dose CT scan, either at a mobile scanning unit or a hospital site.

Recent results from NHS England revealed that 600 people have been diagnosed earlier thanks to these lung health checks. The trucks are based in different areas across the country and are often stationed in convenient locations, like supermarket car parks.

The national programme has seen that more than three quarters (77%) of cancers diagnosed are caught at either stage one or two, when treatment is much more likely to be effective. People diagnosed with lung cancer at the earliest stage are nearly 20 times more likely to survive for five years than those whose cancer is caught late.

Tina McnuttTina Mcnutt, 74 from Ruislip (pictured on right), was diagnosed with lung cancer in December 2021 after taking part in the programme. She was treated with stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT), a type of highly targeted radiotherapy, at The Royal Marsden. She said:

“I received a letter from my doctor offering me an appointment in a mobile lung health clinic. I didn’t have any symptoms but thought there wasn’t any harm in getting checked. I had a lung health check and then a CT scan. I also had a blood test as part of a research study. The scan showed there was a shadow on my lung. Further tests confirmed it was cancer.

“I was shocked by my diagnosis but was reassured by a doctor at The Royal Brompton that it had been caught very early. I was then referred to The Royal Marsden for treatment, which has involved five rounds of SBRT. Incredibly, I’ve had no side effects and have spent much less time in hospital than I would have done with traditional radiotherapy, which involves more sessions. The care I received from the hospital was excellent and the staff couldn’t have been more helpful.

“I think this programme is a brilliant idea. If I hadn’t been checked, I wouldn’t have known anything was wrong and my cancer might not have been caught at such a treatable stage.”

A simple check could lead to an earlier diagnosis of lung cancer or other respiratory conditions, which may make an important difference to treatment.

Dr Richard Lee

Dr Richard Lee, Consultant Physician in Respiratory Medicine at The Royal Marsden and the programme’s Joint National Clinical Lead, who is funded by The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity, said:

“These lung health checks are a key to improving early diagnosis. These latest figures confirm research study findings, that they can help find lung cancers at an earlier stage, when treatment is more effective, and save lives and that this can be achieved in the NHS.

“Now more than ever, this programme is needed as the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted some people’s ability to look after their lung health. For example, many people have been anxious about coming to hospital and catching the COVID, particularly if they have a respiratory condition. COVID also has similar symptoms to lung cancer, so people may assume they have the virus rather than getting checked.

“We would encourage everyone who receives an invitation to take advantage of this opportunity. A simple check could lead to an earlier diagnosis of lung cancer or other respiratory conditions, which may make an important difference to treatment. In the future, I hope to see this initiative form the basis for national screening programme for lung cancer.”

The programme builds on existing research including the 2018 NELSON study, which reported a 26% reduction in lung cancer deaths when high-risk patients had a lung health check and CT scan. The Royal Marsden continues to support the latest research in this area including whether blood tests can help us to better understand who will benefit from lung screening.

Along with the Targeted Lung Health Check programme, researchers from The Royal Marsden’s Early Diagnosis and Detection Centre are helping to support other initiatives focused on the early diagnosis and detection of cancer. For example, the Centre is collaborating with other institutions on studies such as DART and SCOOT which combine AI and blood biomarker research to look for further improvements in lung screening.

The Centre has been established in partnership with The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), hosted by the National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Centre (NIHR BRC) and is supported by funding from The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity.