Lung Health Checks

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

The UK National Screening Committee now recommends that people at high risk of lung cancer have screening. This is called targeted lung cancer screening. But it will likely be some time before the lung screening programme is rolled out across the UK.

The Lung Health Check service is still ongoing while the screening programme is being introduced.

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.

Where are the Lung Health Checks taking place?

Lung Health Checks are taking place in certain areas in England, and this is gradually increasing. It is the aim that the programme will cover all areas of England from 2024 onwards. 

You can check for Lung Health Checks in your area of England by visiting the website below. It has maps of current locations, as well as planned locations.

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.

Why haven’t I been invited?

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

And if you notice anything that’s not normal for you, tell your doctor. In most cases, it won’t be cancer, but if it is, spotting it early when treatment is more likely to be successful can make a real difference. 

What happens in a Lung Health Check?

What happens in a Lung Health Check differs in each area, so read your information leaflet carefully. There should be a telephone number you can call if you have any questions.

You will have a phone, video, or in person appointment with a health professional. Tell them if you have any problems with a phone or video appointment. At the appointment, the health professional will ask you some questions to find out more about your lung cancer risk.

If this shows that you are at a higher risk of developing lung cancer, you will be offered lung cancer screening. Lung cancer screening uses a low dose CT (Computed Tomography) scan to take a detailed picture of your lungs. This may take place on the same day or at a later date.

If the health professional finds problems with your breathing or lungs, but you don’t need a scan, they may refer you to your GP or another specialist.

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

Having a CT scan

You might have a CT scan in a mobile CT scanner truck. If there is no mobile scanner in your area, you will be offered a scan at the hospital.

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. The scan is painless and you will be able to eat, drink and drive as normal before and after your scan.

Getting your results

You will hear from the Lung Health Check team within 4 weeks about the results of your CT scan. They will also give you information about what happens next.

Possible benefits and risks of lung screening

Possible 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. 

Lung cancer can be hard to treat whenever it’s diagnosed, but if it’s found at an early stage treatment is more likely to work. 

Risks

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. 

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

Overdiagnosis and overtreatment 

As well as finding cancers that need treating, screening can also pick up lung cancers that might not harm somebody in their lifetime. This is called overdiagnosis.

Treatment for lung cancer can include surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of these treatments. Currently, doctors can't tell who needs treatment and who doesn't because it isn’t possible to know whether a lung cancer will grow quickly, slowly or not at all. So some people go on to have lung cancer treatment they would never have needed.

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. 

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 cancer before there are any symptoms. If you notice something that doesn’t look or feel quite right or is not normal for you, don’t ignore it - tell your doctor. In most cases, it won’t be cancer, but if it is, spotting it early when treatment is more likely to be successful can make a real difference.

Lung cancer symptoms can include:

  • a new cough or a cough that won't go away
  • being short of breath
  • coughing up blood
  • feeling very tired all the time
  • having an ache or pain in the chest or shoulder

I want to reduce my risk of lung cancer

Stopping smoking completely is the best thing you can do for your health. And it’s never too late to stop smoking. You will be offered support to quit smoking as part of your Lung Health Check. 

The best way to quit is to use specialist support from local stop smoking services. Speak to your doctor or find your local service at NHS Quit smoking.