Changes to treatment of lung cancer 'could save 300 lives a year'
Hundreds of lives could be saved every year if health bosses put in place measures to improve the care of lung cancer patients, it has been claimed.
Only one in 10 people diagnosed with lung cancer in Northern Ireland is still alive after five years, and the UK Lung Cancer Coalition (UKLCC) is calling on health bosses here to introduce measures that it believes will help address the "poor survival rates" locally.
At the moment, Northern Ireland is ranked 19th out of 29 European countries in relation to its five-year survival rate, while nearly half of all lung cancer cases here are discovered when patients turn up at A&E.
The organisation said it wants the five year survival rate to increase to 25% by 2025, which would result in 300 fewer deaths before the five-year mark every year from 2025.
Lung cancer is Northern Ireland's biggest cancer killer, with around 940 people dying every year - three times the number of breast cancer deaths.
It accounts for more than one in five of all cancer-related deaths, with an average of 1,165 new cases each year.
Dr Wendy Anderson, a consultant respiratory physician, said there were a number of reasons why patients in Northern Ireland fared worse than people fighting lung cancer in other European countries.
She added: "I think a lot of patients with a persistent cough, if they smoke, put off going to their GP because they think they are going to be lectured about smoking. They almost feel like it is their own fault - they are even apologetic about having a problem.
"They may also be worried that they have lung cancer and feel like there is nothing that can be done anyway, so there is no point going to the doctor, but there are things that can be done.
"If they present early enough, there is a good chance of curing them. They could certainly be alive after five years.
"If they present later, there are certainly treatments. If the disease has spread, we can make you feel better and we may be able to help you live a bit longer, but we won't be able to cure it. If people come to A&E, then it is going to be too late."
Dr Anderson said she would like health trusts to become involved in the ongoing audit National Lung Cancer Audit, which is already in place in England and which she said had helped to improve survival rates there. It includes league tables and comparisons on performances between hospitals and helps to flag up areas where improvements to services are required.
She also called for an increase in the number of specialist lung cancer nurses in Northern Ireland. Around 80% of English patients have a lung cancer nurse, compared to only 60% here.
Dr Anderson said evidence had shown that as well as increasing the quality of experience for the patient, the specialist nurse made active treatment and long-term survival likelier.
She also called for a regional care pathway for lung cancer patients and an extension to a pilot scheme which has run in the Southern Health and Social Care Trust and which aims to diagnose people with lung cancer as early as possible.
The programme, which was the second of its kind in the UK when it was launched in November 2014, offers open access chest X-ray clinics for those aged over 50 who have a cough or other chest symptom lasting for more than three weeks.
UKLCC published a report today revealing that only 27% of patients questioned said they visited their doctor because they recognised the signs and symptoms of lung cancer.