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UK lung cancer survival rates are improving

7% rise in one-year survival for lung cancer patients

Adrian O’Dowd

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Numbers of people diagnosed with lung cancer who are surviving longer are growing, according to new figures released today in a report* published by the Royal College of Physicians. 

The National Lung Cancer Audit annual report 2016, commissioned by the Healthcare Quality Improvement Partnership (HQIP), shows an encouraging rise in survival as more patients receive life-prolonging treatments. 

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in the UK after breast cancer, and is the commonest cause of cancer-related death. Current survival rates for lung cancer are the second lowest out of 20 common cancers in England and Wales. 

The report covers patients with lung cancer first diagnosed in 2015, and includes 36,025 patients in England, 2,207 in Wales, 37 in Guernsey and 4,884 in Scotland. 

It says there was a 7% increase in the number of people diagnosed with lung cancer surviving for longer than one year – rising from 31% to 38% in the five-year period from 2010 to 2015. 

In addition, 60% of lung cancer patients received anti-cancer treatment such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery, meeting the target set out in the 2015 annual audit report. 

The report further highlights a significant rise in the proportion of patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) who received chemotherapy, by 16% from 48% in 2008 to 64% in 2015 and the percentage of NSCLC patients undergoing surgery has risen to 16.8% from 15.4% the previous year. 

The authors said that in order to ensure that all appropriate treatment options could be considered, a diagnosis had to be confirmed by a laboratory pathologist (a process known as pathological confirmation). It is also recommended that further sub-classification be carried out, to collect more specific information about the exact type and stage of cancer, and the numbers of cells affected. 

Results showed that the number of cases with a pathological confirmation rose from 69% in the previous year’s report to 72% in this one. 

However, the authors said that there continued to be “wide and unacceptable” regional variation in the survival rates and types of treatments that patients were offered, so work should be done to ensure that all patients were consistently provided with the best possible care.

The report recommends that pathological confirmations below 80% should be reviewed to ensure that best practice has been followed, and that at least 90% of all patients should be seen by a lung cancer nurse specialist, and 80% of patients should also have a specialist present at the time of diagnosis – the report indicates that only 57% of patients were seen by a specialist. 

Ian Woolhouse, NLCA senior clinical lead said: “It is very encouraging to note that overall many of our audit indicators have improved compared to the last report.

Highlights include the improvement in pathological sub-typing of lung cancer, the use of chemotherapy and surgery in non-small cell lung cancer, and probably most importantly the improvement in one-year survival. 

“However, there is still much work to do to ensure that all lung cancer patients receive a standard of care that is equal to the best in the country.” 


* National Lung Cancer Audit annual report 2016 (for the audit period 2015). Royal College of Physicians, National Lung Cancer Audit, published January 2017

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