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Yorkshire Cancer Research welcomes national lung screening programme

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Nikki Brady


Yorkshire Cancer Research is celebrating having helped ‘pave the way’ to the announcement of a national lung screening programme today (Monday, 26th June).

Patient going through CT scanner as part of Leeds Lung Health Check programme

Thousands of people across the region will benefit from the government’s decision to introduce lung scans across the country, meaning more lung cancers will be found at the earliest possible stage when they can be treated successfully.

The announcement has been hailed as a “landmark decision in lung cancer care in this country” by Professor Matthew Callister, who led the Leeds Lung Health Check, a pioneering clinical trial funded by Yorkshire Cancer Research that helped provide key data and evidence.

The multimillion-pound study, delivered in partnership with Leeds Teaching Hospitals and the University of Leeds, was launched in November 2018. Since then, more than 7,500 people in Leeds have been screened, over 16,000 scans have taken place, 300 lung cancers have been found and 60 other cancers have been identified.

Professor Mat Callister outside the Leeds Lung Health Check mobile unit

Professor Callister, a Consultant in Respiratory Medicine at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and Honorary Professor at the University of Leeds, 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 was able to provide the committee with new 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 and convince the Government to roll lung screening out on a much bigger scale. 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.

Consultant in Respiratory Medicine at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust

“We are enormously grateful to everyone who gave their time to take part in the trial and to Yorkshire Cancer Research for having the foresight and ambition to fund this important trial back in 2016.”

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, gave their time for free, 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 for many decades to come and play a significant role in reducing health inequalities in some of our region’s most deprived communities.”

7,500 people

in Leeds have been screened for lung cancer.

300 lung cancers

have been found through the Leeds Lung Health Check.

The programme will play a key role in tackling health inequalities by improving survival rates in communities that are hardest hit by lung cancer. By providing integrated stop smoking support, the programme will also reduce the risk of lung cancer and improve overall health.

Lung cancer is one of the most common cancers in Yorkshire and the region’s biggest cause of cancer-related death. 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 test introducing 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.

David Sutcliffe, 74, was diagnosed with early-stage lung cancer in 2022 after visiting the unit. He had surgery to remove the tumour and needed no further treatment.

David said: “I was healthy and active and had no symptoms at all. I had no idea I had lung cancer until I took part in the Leeds Lung Health Check. Because it had been detected early, we nipped the cancer in the bud, and I was able to have keyhole surgery to remove a very small piece of my lung. I was only in the Bexley Wing for two nights and then I was back home making a swift recovery."

I’m very thankful to Yorkshire Cancer Research for funding the scheme. I don’t feel like I’ve had lung cancer. I cycle, play golf and enjoy gardening, and I’m so grateful to be alive. I’ve got a four-year-old granddaughter and another on the way, and I hope I’ve got a few more years left to spend with them.

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 Leeds Lung Health Check – also known as 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.

Yorkshire Stop Smoking Study, funded by Yorkshire Cancer Research

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. During the first round of lung health checks, over 8 in 10 people took up the offer of stop smoking support and nearly 300 people quit smoking as a result.

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, stop smoking services will be integrated into the national rollout of lung cancer screening.

Professor Rachael Murray, Professor of Population Health at the University of Nottingham, who led the Yorkshire Stop Smoking Study said: “This group of people who smoke are particularly highly addicted and need support to stop. Helping them to quit will avoid many futures illnesses and improve the outcomes of treatment if they do get sick. It also reduces health inequalities with these smokers much more likely to be on low incomes and living in disadvantaged circumstances. Our research shows with the right support, provided at the right time we can help people stop smoking for good and save many lives in the process.”

Richard Foster, a former deputy headteacher from Leeds whose cancer was found early and treated successfully through the Leeds Lung Health Check, said: “I can’t overstate the impact that Yorkshire Cancer Research and the project has had on my life. I know that I wouldn’t have stopped smoking had I not gone. Without a doubt, it saved my life.”

Read more about the Leeds Lung Health Check

Every 17 minutes someone is diagnosed with cancer in Yorkshire

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