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Screening

There is no national screening programme for lung cancer in the UK. But the NHS will be offering Lung Health Checks in some areas of England from Autumn 2019.

There is more information below about why we don’t have a national lung cancer screening programme.

What is screening?

Screening means testing people for early stages of a disease before they have any symptoms. For screening to be useful the tests:

  • need to be reliable at picking up cancers
  • overall must do more good than harm to people taking part
  • must be something that people are willing to do

Screening tests are not perfect and have some risks. The screening programme should also be good value for money for the NHS.

Why there is no national lung cancer screening programme

There is no national screening programme for lung cancer in the UK. This is because:

  • it isn't clear that screening everyone saves lives from lung cancer
  • the tests have risks
  • they can be expensive

NHS England are looking at using low dose CT scans as a possible screening test for lung cancer for:

  • people who smoke
  • people who used to smoke

There is evidence that screening people based on their risk of lung cancer saves lives. But tests like this still have risks. The lungs are very sensitive to radiation and frequent scans might cause lung damage.

Tests can also find lung changes that look like cancer. This leads to further tests such as a biopsy. These further tests can also have risks.

Lung screening might also cause overdiagnosis. Overdiagnosis means that some lung cancers found through screening might never become life threatening. So, it is possible that some people go on to have lung cancer treatment that they would never have needed. And these treatments have side effects. They are likely to cause the anxiety that anyone having cancer treatment goes through.

Researchers need to balance the benefits of a possible screening programme with the risk of overdiagnosis.

Research and clinical trials

We have detailed information about research and clinical trials looking into all aspects of diagnosing lung cancer. This includes lung screening for groups of people who are at higher risk of lung cancer.

I want to reduce my risk of lung cancer

Stopping smoking is the best thing you can do for your health. The best way to quit is using specialist support. Speak to your doctor or find your local service at NHS Smokefree.

Last reviewed: 
20 Aug 2019
  • Lung cancer: diagnosis and management

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 2019

  • Current UK National Screening Recommendations

    Public Health England website (Accessed July 2019)

  • Short-term health-related quality of life consequences in a lung cancer CT screening trial (NELSON)

    KA Van den Bergh and others

    British Journal of Cancer, 2010

    Vol 102

  • The UK Lung Cancer Screening Trial: a pilot randomised controlled trial of low-dose computed tomography screening for the early detection of lung cancer

    JK Field and others

    Health Technology Assessment, 2016

    Volume 20, Issue 40

  • 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

Information and help

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