New NHS guidelines could help doctors to diagnose lung cancer earlier
Doctors are being advised to extend cancer tests – including checks for lung cancer - to more people under new guidelines.
According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice), thousands of lives will be saved every year if GPs and patients act on the new NHS guidance.
Early diagnosis of lung cancer increases the chances of effective treatment.
The new guidelines encourage GPs to consider ordering certain tests directly, without first referring patients to a specialist. The aim is to help patients to access investigations more quickly and to ease the pressure on consultants’ time.
The updated guidance also details the symptoms that could indicate cancers – including lung cancer. For instance, unexplained fatigue in somebody over 40 who has ever smoked should be investigated with a chest X-ray.
“It’s about getting the right patients to the right tests at the right time,” said Willie Hamilton, professor of primary-care diagnostics at Exeter University, who helped develop the guidance. “One of the difficulties in our field is identifying the patient who has cancer over all the other patients who don’t.”
Dr Jesme Fox, Medical Director of Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, said: “Late diagnosis is particularly important in lung cancer, in which the overwhelming majority of patients are diagnosed at a stage where the cancer is too advanced for potentially curative treatment.
“We welcome any new initiative focused on diagnosing lung cancer earlier, both aimed at helping patients to recognise lung cancer symptoms and at GPs to refer and investigate potential lung cancer symptoms more speedily.
“These new investigation pathways will require additional resource and we hope that the necessary funding will be made available".
Doctors and patients are being advised that they should look out for key symptoms which might indicate lung cancer. These are:
• A persistent cough
• Shortness of breath
• Chest pain
• Weight loss
• Loss of appetite
• Persistent or recurring chest infection
The new guidance, which took three years to develop, will apply to England and will be taken into account in Wales and Northern Ireland.