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Leeds lung checks lead to life-saving national programme

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Nikki Brady


People in Leeds have been thanked for helping to secure a national screening programme for lung cancer.

CT scan of lungs

During the past four years, thousands of people living in the city have taken part in the Leeds Lung Health Check, which is funded by independent charity Yorkshire Cancer Research and offers scans to those at highest risk of lung cancer.

Now the findings gathered as part of this huge clinical trial have contributed to the evidence needed to bring lung screening to people living across the whole country.

A national lung screening programme, recommended today (Thursday, 29th September 2022) by the UK National Screening Committee, will play an important role in reducing health inequalities by saving thousands of lives through finding lung cancer early when it is easier to treat.

The announcement has been hailed as a “landmark decision in lung cancer care in this country” by clinical trial lead Professor Matthew Callister, a Consultant in Respiratory Medicine at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and Honorary Professor at the University of Leeds.

Professor Mat Callister outside the Leeds Lung Health Check mobile unit

Professor Callister, along with Yorkshire Cancer Research, is now calling for the government to provide sufficient funding to deliver the programme as soon as possible in accordance with the National Screening Committee’s recommendations.

Professor Callister said: “Lung cancer screening was shown to save lives over a decade ago, but the UK National Screening Committee wanted additional evidence that it was deliverable in the UK, and also that it offered value for money for the NHS as a whole.

“The Leeds Lung Health Check is part of a multimillion-pound study called the Yorkshire Lung Screening Trial, which is funded by Yorkshire Cancer Research, and delivered in partnership by Leeds Teaching Hospitals and the University of Leeds. The trial was able to provide the committee with evidence of how screening works in the real world, together with data showing good response rates to invitation. The findings from the trial were critical in demonstrating that screening is cost-effective, and therefore represents good value for money."

“Without the involvement of thousands of people across Leeds who signed up to be part of the trial, we would not have been able to share this important data. It’s because of their willingness to be involved in research that we have been able to contribute to a clear model for how lung screening should be introduced across the country."

“We are grateful to them and to Yorkshire Cancer Research for having the foresight and ambition to fund this important trial back in 2016.”

Lung cancer is one of the most common cancers in Yorkshire. About 4,300 people are diagnosed with it every year in the region, with those living in deprived communities at most risk.

Because lung cancer doesn’t always cause symptoms at an early stage, it is frequently diagnosed late when treatment options are more limited and survival rates are lower. Screening helps detect lung cancer before any signs or symptoms develop, when it is usually easier to treat.

The Leeds Lung Health Check was one of the first screening programmes to introduce lung CT scans on a mobile unit that travels to supermarket and shopping centre car parks so it’s easier for people to take part. Those aged between 55 and 80, who either currently smoke or have smoked in the past, are contacted by their GP to attend the screening van.

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Since launching in November 2018, over 7,000 people have agreed to take part in the study, over 14,000 lung scans have taken place, and over 250 lung cancers have been diagnosed. The trial has pioneered key aspects of lung screening such as telephone consultations to prioritise people in most need of visiting the unit for a lung health check, and reminder invitations to increase uptake.

These learnings were adapted by the NHS Targeted Lung Health Check Programme, which has been testing lung screening in areas of most need across England, including Hull and parts of South Yorkshire, where lung cancer incidence and death rates are significantly higher than average.

A focus of the Yorkshire Lung Screening Trial has been providing on-site stop smoking support. All people attending a screening who still smoke are offered an immediate consultation with a stop-smoking advisor. This is provided by a separate trial, also funded by Yorkshire Cancer Research, called the Yorkshire Stop Smoking Study, which runs alongside the Leeds Lung Health Check. It includes provision of nicotine patches and vaping products on the mobile unit and follow-up support over subsequent weeks. Over 8 in 10 people have taken up this offer and over 500 people have quit smoking as a result.

Yorkshire Stop Smoking Study, funded by Yorkshire Cancer Research

In addition to saving lives by diagnosing lung cancer early, helping people quit smoking provides huge health benefits and is one of the most effective ways of reducing health inequalities. Partly as a result of the success of providing stop smoking support in the Yorkshire Stop Smoking Study, the National Screening Committee has recommended that stop smoking services are integrated into the lung cancer screening programme.

Dr Kathryn Scott, Chief Executive at Yorkshire Cancer Research said:

“The Leeds Lung Health Check and Yorkshire Stop Smoking Study have helped pave the way for the introduction of a national screening programme for lung cancer. This is a huge success story for Yorkshire and truly demonstrates the incredible achievements that can be made when we collaborate and make things happen.

“There are so many people who have been a part of this becoming a reality for patients in Yorkshire. From the charity’s generous supporters, to the people in Leeds who took a positive decision for their own health and put their trust in our experts, to the amazing researchers, research nurses and stop smoking advisors who have put their heart and soul into making these important trials such a huge success.

“We are grateful to each and every person for making a difference for people with cancer in Yorkshire. When rolled out, this new programme will save thousands of lives and play a significant role in reducing health inequalities in some of our region’s most deprived communities.”

Find out more about the Leeds Lung Health Check

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