The only scanners you usually find in supermarkets are at the checkouts. But a new NHS initiative has seen mobile lung scanners set up in places like supermarket car parks to screen patients most at risk of lung cancer.
Free lung health checks are currently being offered to people in Barnsley and Rotherham who are aged between 55 and 74 and are current or former smokers. If you are registered with a GP and are eligible, you will receive a letter inviting you to take part in the Targeted Lung Health Check programme.
The aim of this new screening programme is to catch lung cancer in its early stages when there are more curative treatment options. Lung cancer is a slow-growing cancer and usually doesn’t have any noticeable symptoms until it has progressed to a much later stage.
Symptoms of lung cancer
- Persistent, unexplained cough for three weeks or more
- Persistent, unexplained breathlessness
- Fatigue for four weeks or more
- Persistent or recurring chest infection
- Unexplained weight loss
- Loss of appetite
If you have any of these symptoms, you should see your GP immediately.
Who is eligible for a free lung health check?
Smoking is the most common cause, accounting for 85 percent of all cases, which is why only past and present smokers are being invited.
Almost 30,000 people have already benefited from the service since it was launched in Doncaster in 2021. It then came to Rotherham in November last year and has been offered to patients in Barnsley since March.
Over 200 cancers have been found so far; three quarters were at an early stage and 74 percent of patients were suitable for curative treatment.
Sandra Sloane, from Rossington, is one of those patients who found out she had lung cancer by using this service. She had no previous symptoms but, having given up smoking 16 years ago, was invited for the telephone lung health check. This came back as borderline and she could have turned down the lung scan but decided to go. Sandra had the scan in a mobile unit set up at her local miners’ welfare club car park. It discovered a tumour in her lung and, as it had been caught early enough, she had surgery to remove it and has made a full recovery.
She said: “It’s very hard to describe what that feeling was like. I’ve got my life back and felt as though a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. If you get an invite through, don’t be frightened, don’t hesitate, just go and do it. It saved my life and I can’t thank these people enough. It’s a fabulous scheme.”
Not everyone who has the scan will have cancer. It may also detect other lung conditions that you were previously unaware of. Think of it like an insurance policy; if there is nothing wrong then you have nothing to lose. But if it does detect something more concerning, especially at an early stage, you may have a much better chance of survival.
What happens at a lung health check?
You’ll first receive a phone call to confirm your eligibility. Then a respiratory nurse will call you separately to do a lung check over the phone which takes less than 30 minutes. This is a bit like an MOT to check your lungs are working as they should be. You’ll be asked about things like your lifestyle and your personal and family medical history.
If the assessment flags up that you’re at high risk of lung disease, you’ll be referred to the mobile scanning units for a low dose CT scan. These huge trucks are located in the community within easy access and move around the borough to different neighbourhoods. Your village might have one in a supermarket or social club car park.
The scan is quick and easy, controlled by specially trained radiographers who will only scan your chest while you lay still and follow simple breathing instructions for ten seconds. It’s painless, you don’t need to get undressed, and you can drive as normal before and afterwards.
If the scan identifies any cause for concern, you will be contacted by phone or post with the next steps.
The Targeted Lung Health Check programme is running in Rotherham and Barnsley until 2024. It is being led by South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw Integrated Care Systems Cancer Alliance. For more information visit www.lunghealthchecks.co.uk