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Lung Health Checks

The NHS Lung Health Check is a new service that will be offered in some parts of England from Autumn 2019. It aims to help diagnose lung cancer at an earlier stage when treatment may be more successful.

Who is a Lung Health Check for?

Lung Health Checks are available in some areas of England. If you live in an area where they are taking place, you will receive an invitation if all of the following apply to you.

You:

  • are over 55 but younger than 75 years old
  • are registered with a GP
  • have ever smoked

You will either receive a letter or a phone call inviting you to take part.

Why haven’t I been invited?

Lung health checks are available in some parts of England. Only smokers or people who used to smoke living in these areas will be invited. If you think that your GP doesn’t know you smoke, or used to smoke, let them know.

You can still take steps to reduce your risk of lung cancer. Stopping smoking is the best thing you can do for your health.

And if you notice anything that’s not normal for you, tell your doctor. When cancer is detected at an early stage, treatment is more likely to be successful. 

Where are the Lung Health Checks taking place?

There are 14 areas in England where the NHS Lung Health Checks are taking place. You can find them on the map.

There are no Lung Health Checks taking place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland at the moment.

There are other research projects on lung screening taking place in other areas of England. What happens is different in each area so read your information leaflet carefully. There should be a telephone number to call if you have any questions.

What happens?

You meet a health professional at your appointment. They will ask you some questions to find out more about your lung cancer risk.

You may breathe into a small device called a spirometer. The device measures the amount of air you breathe in and out. It also measures how quickly you breathe. This test is called spirometry. It can be used to diagnose other lung conditions.

If your results show you are at higher risk of lung cancer, you will be offered lung cancer screening. Lung cancer screening uses a low dose CT scan to take a detailed picture of your lungs.

You’ll be offered support for quitting smoking if you still smoke.

Having a CT scan

You might be able to have a CT scan in a mobile truck straight away. If there is not a mobile scanner in your area you will have a scan at the hospital as soon as possible .

A CT scan is a test that uses x-rays and a computer to create detailed pictures of the inside of your body. It takes pictures from different angles. The computer puts them together to make a 3-dimensional (3D) image.  

Photo of a CT scanner

You’re awake during the scan and it’s over quickly.

Getting your results

You will hear from the Lung Health Check team within 2 weeks about the results of your CT scan. They will also give you information about what happens next.

Benefits and harms of lung screening

Benefits

There is evidence that screening people based on their risk of lung cancer saves lives. Lung health checks help to work out who might benefit from a CT scan. It aims to detect cancer at an early stage.

Lung cancer is a difficult disease to treat whenever it’s diagnosed, but if it’s detected early treatment may be more likely to work. 

Harms

False positives and false negative results 

Screening doesn't always find a cancer that is there. So some people with lung cancer will be missed. This is called a false negative result. Sometimes cancers can start to grow after screening.

In some people, the test picks up something even though they don't have lung cancer. This is called a false positive result and would mean you need further tests such as more scans or a biopsy. This can make people feel anxious or worried unnecessarily.

Overdiagnosis and overtreatment 

As well as finding cancers that need treating, screening can also pick up lung cancers that won't ever cause any problems.  At the moment it isn't possible to know whether a lung cancer will grow quickly and need treatment, or will grow slowly, or not at all.

Treatment for lung cancer can include surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy or a combination of these treatments. For some people the cancer would never have caused any problems and so the treatment is unnecessary. At the moment doctors can't tell who needs treatment and who doesn't. 

You can read more about overdiagnosis on our blog.

Exposure to radiation 

Each CT scan exposes a person to small amounts of radiation from the x-rays. But the amount of radiation is very small. 

The balance of benefits and harms

Research looking into how many people will benefit from having 3 low dose CT scans to check for lung cancer shows that if 1000 people are screened:

  • 3 lives will be saved
  • 4 people will be diagnosed with a cancer that wouldn’t have caused them harm (overdiagnosis)
  • 13 people who don’t have cancer will have an invasive test such as a biopsy

Should I go for my lung health check?

Understanding what the benefits and harms of the lung health check and lung screening will help you to make the decision that is right for you. Whether or not to go for screening is your choice.

Read the information that comes with your invitation. You can talk to your GP or nurse. Or you can contact the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. 

I have symptoms, what should I do?

Screening looks for early signs of lung cancer, before there are any symptoms. But if you notice any symptoms or anything that is not normal for you, you should tell your doctor.

Lung cancer symptoms can include:

  • a cough that won't go away
  • a change in a cough you’ve had for a long time
  • being short of breath
  • coughing up blood
  • feeling very tired

I want to reduce my risk of lung cancer

Stopping smoking is the best thing you can do for your health.  You will be offered support to quit smoking as part of your Lung Health Check. 

The best way to quit is using specialist support. Speak to your doctor or find your local service at NHS Smokefree.

Last reviewed: 
18 Jul 2019
  • Targeted Screening for Lung Cancer with Low Radiation Dose Computed Tomography (Standard Protocol prepared for the Targeted Lung Heath Checks Programme)

    NHS England National Cancer Programme, January 2019

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