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Faster diagnosis for lung cancer symptoms

31st October 2019 | By Liz Mattock | Posted in

Patients in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland who have possible lung cancer symptoms are now getting their results much more quickly, following a change in the way they are diagnosed. The number of cases where lung cancer is diagnosed in A&E, at an advanced stage, is also down by 70% compared to last year.

The improvements have been made public by the three Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland to coincide with Lung Cancer Awareness Month, which is in November.

Patients who visit their GP with lung cancer symptoms are first sent for a chest x-ray. Previously, if the result was abnormal, the GP informed the patient and would then send them for a CT scan of the lungs, which could mean a wait of seven to ten days.

However, since January 2019, a new process has been followed where patients who need a CT scan can have that done within just three days of getting their x-ray results. The scan is arranged by the hospital, with no need for the GP to do anything.  If the patient then needs treatment for cancer, this can start much sooner.  It also means that patients who do not have lung cancer get to know about this within two to three days of their scan, compared to two weeks previously.

John Simmons is a patient who’s impressed with the new process. “I’m not the sort of person who panics over anything, but when you’re waiting for the results it’s obviously on your mind. The nurse phoned me the very next day after my scan, to tell me that it wasn’t cancer. Having a phone call was much better than waiting for a letter. You just couldn’t fault the timescales and how it was dealt with.

“I first went to my GP because I’d had concentration problems and I’d been feeling under the weather for two or three months. He sorted me out with an x-ray at hospital the very next day, which I thought was incredible. That was on a Friday and the following Tuesday, while I was on holiday, I got a call from a cancer nurse who said ‘Don’t be too concerned but we need you to come back for a CT scan’. I had the scan straight after my holiday.

They did find something wrong but my GP was able to assure me that no cancer had been found and the condition shown by the scan is not life threatening. It might need some treatment but it’s just a consequence of old age.”

Dr Paul Danaher, Leicester GP and clinical lead for cancer at Leicester City CCG said: “Lung cancer claims more lives each year than any other cancer. One of our top priorities is to diagnose it more quickly, because the sooner cancer is found the easier it is to treat, with a greater chance of success. We wanted to see fewer cases where lung cancer is found at quite a late stage, where patients come to A&E as an emergency, because by then the cancer is harder to treat.

“By making several changes to the process that we follow for carrying out tests, making clinical decisions and sending results, we have made real improvements for patients who have lung cancer symptoms. We are really pleased with this progress, which has been made possible with the support of our colleagues at University Hospitals of Leicester.”

Dr Muhammad Tufail, Consultant Respiratory Physician at University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, said: “If a patient’s lung CT scan shows signs of requiring further investigations, these are prioritised and arranged by the hospital as soon as possible, usually within a week. This means that if the patient does have lung cancer, their treatment can start earlier. We have already reduced the time patients wait to have treatment by five days compared to last year and with further work we hope to reduce this time even more.

“This is much better for patients as almost all of them will know within the week what is happening and, if the result is that they do not have cancer, they get to hear the good news more quickly.”

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