Shoppers at a number of supermarkets and shopping centres across England will be offered free lung checks in a bid to save thousands of lives, following a ‘game changing’ pilot scheme in Manchester last year.

NHS England aims to drastically reduce the number of people with lung disease after seeing the success of the Macmillan Cancer Support-funded pilot, in which more than 40 lung cancers were picked up at a much earlier stage than they otherwise would have been. Shoppers will be offered lung checks with mobile CT scanners at locations in London, the north east and parts of Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, with the programme eventually being rolled out nationally.

For the pilot, Macmillan partnered with the University Hospital of South Manchester, with lung cancer death rates in the north west being the highest in the UK. The idea was to make it easier for people to attend checks by bringing the scanners to shopping centres and high streets, with smokers and former smokers getting a free lung health check, which could then lead to an on-site scan.

The pilot scheme found that 80% of lung cancers diagnosed by the checks were discovered at the more curable stages one and two - compared to fewer than 20% of diagnoses made after patients report symptoms through usual channels. The percentage discovered at stage four - which is almost always incurable - dropped from nearly 50% to just over 10%.

More than 2,500 people with a smoking history underwent the checks, with about half offered an immediate CT scan. More than 40 lung cancer diagnoses were made - one for nearly every scanning day of the project’s duration.

This week, NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens announced the scaling up of the innovative scheme, along with new details of a more sensitive bowel cancer test that could also save thousands of lives. NHS England is funding the scanners in order to diagnose cancer earlier, improve the care for those living with cancer and ensure each cancer patient gets the right care for them.

Following the pilot scheme, UHSM’s clinical lung lead Dr Phil Barber said: “The response from patients was extremely encouraging for future early diagnosis lung projects. We have hard evidence now that CT scanning high-risk patients helps us to identify cancers early enough to cure them, and we have also picked up many patients with other lung conditions at a much earlier stage than would otherwise have been possible. This is a landmark day for respiratory health.”

Macmillan chief executive Lynda Thomas said: “Our Manchester pilot has achieved extraordinary success in diagnosing lung cancer at an early curative stage. Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer death in the UK, claiming the lives of more than 35,000 people a year. Yet thousands of lives could be saved if early diagnosis screening of lung disease could be taken forward.

“The Macmillan Cancer Improvement Partnership in Manchester has found an approach that encourages people at high risk of lung disease to attend and undergo a highly effective diagnostic low-dose CT scan in a mobile unit in their own neighbourhood. People at high risk, often living in our most deprived areas, should be given this proven opportunity to improve their chances of surviving lung cancer and other lung diseases.”

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