The UK’s largest ever lung cancer screening trial will get underway in London early in the new year, with the aim of detecting the disease early and developing a new blood test.

The SUMMIT Study - a partnership between University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (UCLH), UCL and a US healthcare company - wants to pick up lung cancer much earlier amongst at-risk Londoners, as well as develop the new blood test for the early detection of a number of cancer types, including lung cancer.

Lung cancer is the UK’s biggest cancer killer, with many cases being diagnosed in the later stages of the disease, yet early detection gives a patient the best possible chance of successful treatment and survival. Currently, screening for breast, bowel and cervical cancer is available, but not lung cancer. It is hoped the trial could potentially lead to a national lung cancer screening programme.

The study is being held by UCLH Cancer Collaborative, which brings together hospital trusts, GPs, healthcare organisations, local authorities and patients across north and east London to improve early cancer diagnosis, outcomes and care. The organisation is working closely with UCL and US healthcare company GRAIL, Inc., and aims to recruit around 50,000 men and women aged between 50 and 77.

Half of the participants (Group A) will be at high risk of lung and other cancers due to a significant smoking history, while Group B will consist of people who are not at high risk. All participants will provide a blood sample, which will be analysed to evaluate whether lung or other cancers can be detected early through genomic signals in the blood. The SUMMIT Study will also offer smoking cessation support to smokers who would like to stop.

Professor of respiratory medicine at UCL/UCLH and Summit Study chief investigator Prof Sam Janes said: “Lung cancer is the biggest cancer killer in the UK because most people only experience symptoms when the cancer is at an advanced stage, when it is very difficult to treat.

“This large-scale study gives us a unique opportunity to detect lung cancer much earlier, when treatment is more likely to be successful amongst those proven to be most at risk – people who smoke or used to smoke, aged between 50 and 77. By working together, we hope to bring lung cancer screening to people in the United Kingdom, while we also deepen our understanding of potential new technologies for early cancer detection.”

One in two people will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime, with lung cancer alone causing around 35,000 deaths per year in the UK. Early diagnosis is key to effective treatment and increasing survival for all cancers, but particularly for lung cancer; currently around 75% of lung cancers are diagnosed at stages 3 and 4, yet if diagnosed at the earliest stage, 70% of lung cancer patients will survive for at least a year, compared to around 14% for people diagnosed with the most advanced stage of the disease.

The SUMMIT Study follows a smaller pilot study in 2016, led by UCL, in which approximately 2,000 north London residents who smoke or have smoked regularly in the past were invited for a lung health check, including a low dose CT scan at UCLH.