National audit reveals improvements in lung cancer care

In collaboration with the Press Association

Lung cancer care in the UK is continuing to make incremental improvements, according to a major NHS audit.

Patients are benefiting from improved standards of treatment - including more receiving surgery aimed at curing their disease, according to the latest instalment of the National Lung Cancer Audit.

Cancer Research UK said the improvements, which build on last years results, "are to be applauded" but need to be sustained.

The first audit was published in 2004 with the aim of allowing individual NHS trusts and Cancer Networks to compare their record on delivering treatment with that of others across the UK.  

By pooling their data, the institutions are able to learn from one another, improving their standard of clinical care and, ultimately, patient outcomes.

The latest audit is based on data for 38,500 patients first seen in hospitals in Great Britain in 2011, accounting for around 93 per cent of total new cases.

The review shows that three in five lung cancer patients now receive active treatment such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy, compared with less than half (45 per cent) in 2005.

Around 15 per cent of all patients diagnosed with lung cancer or mesothelioma now receive an operation to try to cure their condition, prolong their life or at least alleviate symptoms, compared with nine per cent in 2005.

While the overall surgical figures may seem low, most lung cancer patients go to hospital with very advanced cancer, meaning a curative operation is no longer an option.

In total, 96.2 per cent of lung cancer cases were discussed by a specialist team of health professionals - known as multidisciplinary teams - compared with 95 per cent in 2009, and only 86 per cent at the audit's inception.

NHS guidelines state that everyone diagnosed with lung cancer should be under the care of a multidisciplinary team, as they are key to accurate diagnoses and choosing the best treatment.

Dr Mick Peake, who led the audit, said: "The performance of hospitals has improved consistently year on year over the period of the audit and this is making a really positive impact on patient care and outcomes."

But he said the level of variation shown in the report means that there is still "significant room for improvement" to bring all hospitals up to the standard of the best.

Sarah Woolnough, executive director of policy and information at Cancer Research UK, welcomed the continued improvements in lung cancer care highlighted in the audit, which she said are to be applauded.

But she said lung cancer survival rates remain extremely low, with only nine per cent of adults in England surviving their lung cancer for five years or more, and variation in services persist in some parts of the country.

"Progress in treating lung cancer must be maintained, so we must all continue our efforts to improve services, alongside sustained research, prevention and early diagnosis to better tackle this horrible disease," she added.

Copyright Press Association 2012