Expert calls for increase in lung cancer surgery

In collaboration with the Press Association

A leading lung cancer expert has estimated that up to 3,000 lives could be saved every year in Britain if surgery rates for the disease were increased.

Just over ten per cent of patients diagnosed with lung cancer in Britain are treated with surgery - up from nine per cent in previous years - compared with 15 to 25 per cent in western Europe.

Dr Mike Peake, NHS clinical lead on lung cancer in England, said that by raising Britain's surgery rates to those of western European nations, survival rates could be doubled.


His comments came as a new report from the NHS Information Centre (IC) and the Royal College of Physicians revealed that the quality of treatment for people with lung cancer differs from hospital to hospital in Britain.

"In the best centres in Britain, one in five patients are getting an operation. In the poorer centres it is only four per cent, that is less than one in 20, so there is an almost fivefold difference between different areas as to whether you have an operation or not," Dr Peake revealed.

"Having an operation is your biggest hope of a long-term cure and the vast majority of people who survive five years and beyond are those who have had an operation."

The National Lung Cancer Audit report revealed that while some trusts provide treatment that is comparable with the best international standards, others do not offer acceptable standards diagnosis or treatment.

Although the proportion of patients who receive anti-cancer treatment has risen from 43 per cent in 2005 to 51 per cent, the proportion varies from between a third and 78 per cent depending on which hospital a patient is treated at.

Patients at the highest-performing trusts are more than four times more likely to be given surgery than those in the lowest-performing hospitals.

Meanwhile, chemotherapy is given to just 61.9 per cent of patients overall, compared with more than 80 per cent in the highest-performing trusts.

Overall, the report indicates that both lung cancer care and treatment outcomes are lower than those reported by other western European countries.

Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: "The national audit shows the variation in diagnosis and treatment across the UK is still unacceptable with far too many lung cancers diagnosed too late for effective treatment. But credit should go to those hospital trusts that offer world class treatment and to those areas that have made some progress.

"The National Awareness and Early Diagnosis Initiative (NAEDI) jointly led by the Department of Health and Cancer Research UK, is working hard to make real improvements in lung cancer outcomes by ensuring the public and health professionals are aware of the signs and symptoms of lung cancer, and by encouraging people to visit their GP if they are worried about particular symptoms.

"Diagnosing cancers earlier could save more than 5,000 lives annually - many of whom could be lung cancer patients. Best practice in diagnosing and treating lung cancer must be shared across the UK, so that trusts that perform less well are able to improve as quickly as possible."

NHS IC chief executive Tim Straughan commented: "While there have been overall improvements in care since the previous audit in 2006, there's still a wide variation between hospitals which cannot be explained on the basis of differing patient profiles alone.

"Trusts need to look carefully at the areas where their performance varies with national averages and expected levels of attainment and address the underlying causes."

Jonathan Potter, clinical director of the Royal College of Physicians' clinical effectiveness and evaluation unit, added that doctors "will value the opportunity provided by the data to work with hospital management and commissioners to drive up the quality of care".