Lung Cancer

Importance of Early Detection of Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Understanding the Significance of Early Detection

Lung cancer poses a significant threat to health, being the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the UK. However, amidst this challenge lies a beacon of hope: early detection. As an experienced oncologist, I am deeply committed to lung health, I am driven by the mission to improve outcomes and enhance survival rates through early detection initiatives. Join me in exploring the pivotal role early detection plays in combating non-small cell lung cancer.

You should be mindful of the symptoms of lung cancer or attend a lung cancer screening appointment if you are at high risk of lung cancer. There are many benefits of discovering a lung cancer in its early stages, including:

  1. Improved Treatment Options: Detecting lung cancer in its early stages provides patients with a wider array of treatment options. Early-stage lung cancer is more likely to be operable, meaning surgical removal of the tumour may be possible. Additionally, early detection allows for less aggressive treatments, potentially reducing side effects and improving quality of life.
  • Increased Survival Rates: The survival rates for lung cancer are significantly higher when the disease is diagnosed at an early stage. Patients diagnosed with localised lung cancer have a much better prognosis compared to those with advanced-stage disease. Early detection enables timely intervention, leading to better chances of successful treatment and long-term survival.
  • Reduced Disease Progression: Lung cancer that is diagnosed at an advanced stage is more likely to have spread to other parts of the body, making treatment more challenging and less effective. Early detection allows for interventions to prevent or delay the spread of cancer, potentially stopping the disease in its tracks and improving overall prognosis.
  • Enhanced Quality of Life: Early detection not only improves survival rates but also enhances the quality of life for lung cancer patients. By identifying the disease before it causes significant symptoms or complications, patients can undergo less aggressive treatments, experience fewer side effects, and maintain better physical and emotional well-being.
  • Empowerment Through Screening Programs: Screening programs, such as low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) scans for high-risk individuals, play a crucial role in detecting lung cancer at its earliest stages. These programs empower individuals at risk, such as current or former smokers, to undergo regular screenings, facilitating early detection and intervention when needed.
  • Cost-Effectiveness: From a healthcare perspective, early detection of lung cancer can lead to cost savings by reducing the need for extensive treatments and hospitalisations associated with advanced-stage disease. Detecting lung cancer early not only saves lives but also reduces healthcare costs and resource use. It would mean that after treatment, you are much more likely to be well enough to return to work than if the cancer had spread to other parts of the body at diagnosis.

Who might benefit from a private lung health check?

Lung cancer screening, also known as a lung health check, is a valuable tool in detecting lung cancer at its earliest stages, when treatment is most effective. However, not everyone is eligible for screening. Here’s an overview of who may benefit from lung cancer screening:

  • Age and Smoking History: The primary eligibility criteria for lung cancer screening typically include age and smoking history. In most cases, individuals aged over 55 who have a significant smoking history are considered eligible. This includes current smokers or those who have quit smoking within the past 15 years.
  • Smoking History Criteria: Eligibility based on smoking history is often defined by the number of pack-years smoked. A pack-year is calculated by multiplying the number of packs of cigarettes smoked per day by the number of years smoked.
  • High-Risk Groups: While smoking is the primary risk factor for lung cancer, other factors may also increase an individual’s risk, making them eligible for screening. These factors may include exposure to environmental pollutants, occupational hazards such as asbestos or radon, a family history of lung cancer, or a personal history of certain lung conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

How to get the most of a lung health check

It’s important that if you enter into a screening programme, you choose one that prioritises, and uses:

  • Shared Decision-Making: It’s essential to engage in shared decision-making with your doctor to determine if lung cancer screening is appropriate for you. This involves discussing the potential benefits and risks of screening, as well as considering individual preferences and values.
  • Screening Guidelines: Eligibility criteria for lung cancer screening may vary slightly depending on the specific guidelines followed by healthcare providers or organizations. At our first consultation, we will set out to understand the screening guidelines that apply to you and whether you meet the criteria for screening.
  • Regular Screening Interval: For individuals who meet the eligibility criteria for lung cancer screening, regular screening intervals are typically recommended. This may involve low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) scans to monitor for any signs of lung cancer.

What are the symptoms of lung cancer?

Lung cancer can often go unnoticed in its early stages, as symptoms may be subtle or easily mistaken for other respiratory conditions. Being aware of potential symptoms can aid in early detection and treatment. Here are some common signs and symptoms associated with lung cancer:

  1. Persistent Cough: A persistent cough that worsens over time or doesn’t go away can be a sign of lung cancer. You should see a doctor if you have a new cough for 3 weeks or more, or if a cough you have had for a long time changes in any way.
  • Coughing up blood: Your sputum may contain blood or change colour (rust coloured)
  • Shortness of Breath: Lung cancer can cause shortness of breath, even with minor exertion. This symptom may worsen as the disease progresses.
  • Chest Pain: Chest pain that is constant and worsens with deep breathing, coughing, or laughing may indicate lung cancer. The pain may be dull, sharp, or stabbing in nature.
  • Hoarseness: A hoarse voice or changes in voice quality that persist for an extended period may be a symptom of lung cancer, especially when accompanied by other respiratory issues.
  • Wheezing or noisy breathing: similar to asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), noisy breathing can occur with lung cancer due to airway obstruction.
  • Unexplained Weight Loss: Sudden and unexplained weight loss, especially if significant, can be a warning sign of various cancers, including lung cancer.
  • Fatigue: Persistent fatigue or weakness that doesn’t improve with rest can be a symptom of advanced lung cancer.
  • Loss of Appetite: A significant decrease in appetite, along with unexplained weight loss, may indicate underlying health issues such as lung cancer.
  1. Bone Pain: Lung cancer that has spread to the bones may cause bone pain, particularly in the back, hips, or chest.
  1. Headaches: Lung cancer that has spread to the brain may cause headaches, seizures, or other neurological symptoms.

It’s important to note that these symptoms can be caused by conditions other than lung cancer. However, if you experience any of these symptoms, especially if they persist or worsen over time, it’s essential to consult a doctor for proper evaluation and diagnosis.

Early detection of lung cancer can significantly improve treatment outcomes and overall prognosis. If you have a history of smoking or exposure to other risk factors for lung cancer, such as environmental toxins or a family history of the disease, it’s crucial to remain vigilant and report any concerning symptoms to your doctor promptly.

Encouraging Action for Your Well-Being

It’s vital to be proactive in safeguarding your lung health. Whether you’re experiencing symptoms or fall within high-risk categories, I urge you to take the first step towards early detection. By recognising the symptoms, understanding screening eligibility criteria, and embracing shared decision-making, you empower yourself on the path to early detection and improved outcomes. Together, let’s embark on a journey towards better lung health. Schedule an appointment today and take control of your well-being. If you appreciate the importance of early detection and are ready to prioritise your lung health, I invite you to contact me on +44 (0)20 7993 6716. Let us partner in your health journey, providing compassionate care, personalised guidance, and empowering solutions tailored to your needs.


About James Wilson

Dr James Wilson is a Consultant Clinical Oncologist at University College London Hospital and is an Honorary Associate Professor at UCL. He is a Member of the Royal College of Physicians, Fellow of the Royal College of Radiologists and Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine.