November is lung cancer awareness month and, as such, I find it to be an important time of year to reflect on how far we have come in tackling the disease and improving outcomes for lung cancer patients, and to refocus on what still needs to be done to improve treatment and care in England to be in line with the rest in Europe and amongst the best in the world. Today, I am going to focus on the positive steps forward over the last 12 months.
Since the beginning of lung cancer awareness month in 2010 there have been some fantastic initiatives helping to improve lung cancer outcomes. For example, a new lung cancer awareness campaign is being piloted across parts of England, aimed at helping people recognise the symptoms of lung cancer through a series of TV, radio and press adverts. Making the general population, and healthcare professionals, more aware of the signs and symptoms of lung cancer and educating them about the steps to take to help ensure an earlier diagnosis, are important factors in improving outcomes from this disease.
Alongside this, GPs should now be able to directly access chest x-rays to support the diagnosis of lung cancer. This means that, for those patients where the two week urgent referral pathway is not appropriate, they are still able to have their symptoms investigated without having to wait a long time for a diagnosis.
Additionally, just last week the consultation on a draft Lung Cancer Quality Standard was opened for comment. This quality standard is designed to set out what the aspirational (but achievable) markers of high-quality patient care should look like across the whole lung cancer pathway and how this can be delivered in a cost-effective way. As the name suggests, this should drive-up quality in every area, from lung cancer prevention, to treatment and end-of-life care.
So, if patients get to a healthcare professional quickly (encouraged by the awareness campaign), a GP is able to efficiently get symptoms investigated thorough diagnostic tests (aided by direct GP access to chest x-ray) and the whole lung cancer pathway is designed to achieve high-quality cost-effective care (through the Lung Cancer Quality Standard), then we have a lot of the right ingredients to improve the outcomes of lung cancer patients. Let’s hope that as much progress is made in the next 12 months as in the last.