Lung cancer screening UK: NHS invites most at risk people to tests - who is eligible, what are the symptoms?

Lung cancer symptoms typically develop as the condition progresses

The NHS is urging all current and former cigarette smokers to take up invitations for lung cancer check-ups.

Mobile teams have already diagnosed 600 people with the disease in travelling trucks which visit community sites across the country, including supermarkets and sports centres.

All current and ex-cigarette smokers are being urged to take up invitations for lung cancer check-ups (Composite: Mark Hall / JPIMedia)

The community initiative, which is part of the NHS Targeted Lung Health Check Programme, aims to make it easier for people to access check-ups and has seen more than three quarters (77%) of cancers caught at either stage one or two, giving patients a much better chance of beating the illness.

This compares to less than a third of cancers caught at either stage one or two in 2018.

Professor Peter Johnson, NHS clinical director for cancer, said: “Lung cancer can often be hard to detect at an early stage and so these checks, close to people’s homes, show how the NHS is taking action to find more people with cancer.

“Lives are saved when cancers are caught early and when more people are referred for tests, which is why the NHS has put so much effort into early diagnosis in recent years.

“We know that some people had concerns seeking help during the pandemic but if you do have a worrying symptom or have been coughing for three weeks or more, please do contact your GP and get checked out.”

Who is eligible for a lung cancer check?

The NHS is inviting those most at risk of lung cancer, including former or current smokers, to attend a “Lung MOT” in its mobile trucks. Those who are highest at risk will also be given an on-the-spot chest scan.

The health service said 23 existing truck sites have issued up to 25,000 invitations for check-ups every month so far, and the trucks are especially travelling to areas of the country with some of the highest death rates from lung cancer.

A further 20 NHS lung truck sites are due to go live shortly with the capacity to invite 750,000 more people at increased risk for a check, in efforts to catch thousands more cancers at an earlier stage.

The NHS estimates that 7,700 cases will be caught earlier by 2024-25 after as many as 1.5 million people will have been invited for a lung health check.

The mobile trucks visit community sites across the UK, including supermarkets and sports centres (Photo: PA)

The mobile teams have also identified thousands of people with other undiagnosed conditions including respiratory and cardiovascular disease, enabling them to access the treatment they need earlier.

Dame Cally Palmer, NHS cancer director, said: “These lung checks can save lives – by going out into communities we find more people who may not have otherwise realised they have lung cancer – with hundreds already diagnosed and hundreds of thousands due to be invited.”

“The trucks are conveniently located to make them easy to access and it is vital that as soon as you are invited, you take up the offer and come forward for these potentially life-saving checks.

“The rollout of our Targeted Lung Health Check Programme is a huge step towards reaching our NHS Long Term Plan ambitions of catching thousands more cancers at an earlier stage when they are easier to treat.”

What are the symptoms of lung cancer?

There are usually no signs of lung cancer in the early stages, with symptoms typically developing as the condition progresses. The main symptoms of the disease include:

  • a cough that doesn’t go away after two or three weeks
  • a long-standing cough that gets worse
  • chest infections that keep coming back
  • coughing up blood
  • an ache or pain when breathing or coughing
  • persistent breathlessness
  • persistent tiredness or lack of energy
  • loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss

The NHS recommends seeing a GP if you are suffering any of these symptoms.

Less common symptoms of lung cancer can include changes in the appearance of your fingers, such as becoming more curved or their ends becoming larger, difficulty or pain when swallowing, wheezing, a hoarse voice, swelling of your face or neck, and persistent chest or shoulder pain.