World Lung Cancer Day 2021 – The key challenges in Wales

Do you know that around 2,500 people are sadly diagnosed with lung cancer every year in Wales?

As part of World Lung Cancer Day, we are aiming to raise awareness of the key challenges that face Wales with lung cancer and address how we are working together to help resolve these problems.

Unfortunately, within Wales, the main reasons for the poor outcomes of lung cancer patients are:

  • Many lung cancers in Wales are diagnosed at an advanced stage when they are more difficult to treat. People often dismiss minor symptoms such as a persistent cough that lasts a few weeks, fatigue, loss of appetite and regular breathlessness. These symptoms can also be confused with the signs of coronavirus causing further delays to diagnosis.
  • Clinicians lack the effective, targeted treatment options they need to tackle these advanced tumours. Usually, lung cancer is treated where possible through surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy or through immunotherapy. However, even with these treatments, longer-term survival rates are still very poor, with fewer than 20% of patients surviving at 5 years after their diagnosis.
  • Significant health inequalities exist in Wales. It is well known that Wales contains areas of high deprivation and that life expectancy in these areas is considerably lower than the national average. It is in these areas that the burden of lung cancer is greatest, in terms of both numbers of cases and deaths.

At Cancer Research Wales, we are investing into several projects that seek to improve the early detection and treatment of lung cancer:

We are currently funding an exciting project at Cardiff University that is developing clinically relevant laboratory models of lung cancer. Using samples of tumours and healthy tissue from lung cancer patients, the team are creating 3-D cell cultures that mimic actual lung cancers. These structures will allow the testing of new drugs and new methods of combining drugs with radiotherapy, helping to reduce both the time and the cost of developing new therapeutic strategies.

Cancer Research Wales are also supporting calls for the Welsh Government to implement a targeted lung cancer screening.  Lung cancer was one of several priorities identified by Welsh Government in their last Cancer Delivery Plan (2016-2020) and we hope that this new screening programme will be acknowledged as part of this for the future. Similar programmes have begun in other parts of the UK, but Wales hasn’t benefited from this lifesaving work.

In Europe, screening trials have already taken place using low-dose CT scans, as opposed to traditional chest X-rays. This allows for the detection of small lung tumours at very early stages, potentially several years before symptoms develop. It is estimated that around 500 lives could be saved each year in Wales if a screening programme using this technology is rolled out.

Further studies undertaken by research teams in England highlights that the lung cancer pathway was the most delayed out of all cancers after the first prolonged lockdown.  The knock-on effects of COVID-19 will be felt for some time and demonstrates the importance of people coming forward and visiting their GP if they have any concerns. At Cancer Research Wales, we are currently running a campaign encouraging people to get checked and to visit their GP. For more information visit: https://www.getchecked.wales/