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Care for UK lung cancer patients is improving

Patients with persistent cough advised to see a GP

Adrian O'Dowd

Wednesday, 07 December 2011

Patients with lung cancer are receiving better care in the UK as the country is closing the gap on others in western Europe in terms of quality, claims a report published today.

Early detection of possible lung cancer, however, needs to improve and patients who have had a cough for more than three weeks are being advised to see their GP and ask if they need a chest X-ray.

The National Lung Cancer Audit Report 2011, shows the percentage of patients receiving crucial care measures, such as surgery or anti-cancer treatment like chemotherapy or radiotherapy, is improving each year.

Lung cancer kills more people in the UK each year than any other form of cancer and the new audit has data for almost 100% of the estimated 38,057 UK cases first treated in 2010 that presented to secondary care.

The audit is managed by The NHS Information Centre in partnership with the Royal College of Physicians and commissioned by the Healthcare Quality Improvement Partnership.

Results from the audit show that 13.7% of patients in England and Wales and 11.1% of patients in Scotland received an operation, compared to 10.8% and 10.6% respectively in 2008.

Lung cancer is often diagnosed at an advanced stage, meaning up to three quarters of patients are not suitable for surgery and the audit authors said the improved surgery rate suggested improving expertise among clinical teams in assessing patients for borderline fitness for surgery and better access to more complex surgical techniques.

Other countries have different forms of data so it is difficult to draw exact comparisons between the UK and elsewhere, but the audit information suggests that UK surgery rates, although improving, are still lower than in other countries such as Italy which has a surgery rate of 25%, Sweden (17.5%), the USA (27%) and Holland (20%).

For anti-cancer treatment (surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy), 58.4% of patients in England and Wales and 63.9% of patients in Scotland received an anti-cancer treatment, compared to 54% and 64.1% respectively in 2008.

Overall, the audit says the gap between the UK and other countries in Western Europe, who have historically been rated as having higher quality care, is narrowing.

Consultant in respiratory medicine Dr Mick Peake, audit clinical lead and clinical lead for NHS Cancer Improvement and the National Cancer Intelligence Network, said: “The audit has exceeded all our hopes and expectations both in terms of the quality and comprehensive nature of the data and the impact that it is clearly having on the care of lung cancer patients in the UK.”

The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) issued advice to coincide with the publication of the audit.

The RCP said anyone with a cough that had not gone away after three weeks should consult their GP and ask whether they should have a chest X-ray, because a persistent cough could be a sign of lung cancer.

The college said that despite the results of the audit, which showed improvements, many people still did not consult their doctor until it was too late for the treatment to be effective.

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