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UK lung cancer patients face 'unacceptable postcode lottery'

Published on 03/11/09 at 06:28am

Lung cancer patients in the UK face an "unacceptable postcode lottery", according to the first national review of lung cancer services.

Chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery are not made available to a great number of patients at present, it suggests.

The report by the United Kingdom Lung Cancer Coalition (UKLCC) says the NHS is failing patients but that a 70% "active treatment rate" across the board could save 3,000 lives each year.

At present, on average only half of sufferers receive surgery and this figure drops markedly in some areas.

"In some parts of the UK fewer than 10% of patients receive any form of treatment to halt the spread of their disease," says Dr Mick Peake, chair of the UKLCC's clinical advisory group and NHS national clinical lead for lung cancer.

Surgery remains the best hope of a cure, yet in some Primary Care Trusts just 5% of patients receive it, compared to 25% in others.

The review, based on data from lung cancer clinicians, tracks progress since the first UK Lung Cancer Plan two years ago, and finds that the situation in terms of diagnosis, treatment rates and access to specialists is still "woefully inadequate".

A third of patients still do not receive a biopsy to diagnose their condition while a shortage of experienced staff is creating huge problems.

"There are only 44 full-time equivalent specialist thoracic surgeons spread thinly over 240 multi-disciplinary cancer teams across the country and many teams lack core members," says Dr Peake.

"Alarmingly, patients who are fit for surgery are being turned down."

At present only a quarter of people with lung cancer in England live for a year and just 7% are still alive five years after diagnosis.

"We know if we apply the best standards of care already being demonstrated in some parts of the country, we can double one-year survival by 2015 and five-year survival by 2020," says UKLCC chair Dame Gill Oliver.

38,000 lung cancer patients are diagnosed each year in the UK.

It is the UK's biggest cancer killer, killing 34,500 people annually - more than leukaemia, breast, prostate and bladder cancer combined.


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