Early health checks to tackle lung cancer deaths across Newcastle and Gateshead

Patient receives CT scan
Thousands of CT scans are taking place as part of the lung health check programme. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

A major trial is aiming to cut patients' risk of dying from one of the North East's biggest killer diseases.

Health checks and scans are being given to thousands of people across Newcastle and Gateshead who are at high risk of lung cancer.

Spotting it early is crucial to offer the best range of treatments or even a cure.

Lung cancers are generally hard to detect in their early stages because patients tend not to display symptoms.

In the later stages, treatment options are limited, and focus on controlling the cancer rather than offering a potential cure.

In the hope of reducing deaths, Newcastle and Gateshead are among a number of areas across England trialling an NHS lung health checks programme.

Who is eligible for the NHS lung health check programme?

  • People between 55 and 74 years old

  • Registered with a GP in Newcastle or Gateshead

  • A current or former smoker

  • Other risk factors, such as profession and family health, are also considered

Thousands of patients are receiving letters inviting them to take part.

Everyone who comes forward is given an initial assessment and for some, that is the end of the process.

Those with a greater chance of developing the disease receive a CT scan to provide a detailed picture of their lung health.

For respiratory consultant, Dr Ann Ward, the lung health check programme is nothing short of a game changer.

She said: "This is really a gift to the people of Newcastle and Gateshead because by finding these lung cancers at an early stage, that will change the entire lung cancer world where we expect to diagnose six out of ten lung cancers at an early stage and therefore possibly being able to cure those."

In figures:

  • 50,000 people across Newcastle and Gateshead are eligible to take part

  • 10,500 have been invited so far

  • Cancerous growths are found in 2% or 3% of patients checked

Former smoker Audrey Worby, from Newcastle, has already taken part.

Her CT scan detected a growth on her lung though fortunately, it turned out not to be cancerous.

Even so, Ms Worby said she was thankful for the opportunity to be involved and has a simple message for all those invited.

She said: "Suppose somebody's smoking now - don't be afraid to go because if you have got cancer and it's very early stages you can be cured."

Audrey Worby, right, tells Health Correspondent Helen Ford, left, a lung health check has given her peace of mind. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Dr Ward said the trial was already bearing fruit. Lung cancers have been diagnosed in around two dozen patients following their scan - the majority in the early stages.

The programme is also being expanded to other areas of the North East.

Eligible patients in the Tees Valley will begin receiving letters inviting them to take part.

While this programme concentrates on lung health, it is part of a wider drive by the NHS to improve cancer survival rates through earlier diagnosis.

Broadening screening programmes, and improving access to them, will be key to that goal.

Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To know...