Lung cancer is not only the second most common cancer, with nearly 50,000 new cases a year, it’s also one of the most difficult to diagnose as it has few obvious symptoms.
It’s therefore often well advanced when discovered and survival is notoriously short. And it’s the most common cause of cancer death.
Now a team of researchers from the universities of Oxford and Nottingham have come up with a tool, aptly called CanPredict, which is able to pinpoint the people most at risk of developing lung cancer over the next 10 years.
This means they can be screened earlier, saving time, money and, most importantly, lives.
Survival rates improve if lung cancer is caught early, so the UK National Screening Committee recommended targeted lung cancer screening in September 2022.
Professor Fergus Gleeson, co-author at Oxford University, said: “Using a technique called low-dose computerised tomography for lung cancer screening we can catch this disease and treat it earlier, and that improves people’s outcomes.”
Toward this end, researchers developed and tested the tool using health records of more than 19 million people from across the UK.
Dr Weiqi Liao, lead author from Oxford University, said: “CanPredict works by examining existing patient health records, prioritising patients and alerting their GPs that they might benefit from further screening.”
To develop the new tool, the researchers used health data from more than 35million patients and identified 73,380 who had been diagnosed with lung cancer.
Tracking back through their health records then identified common factors that might predict their risk of developing the cancer – factors such as smoking, age, ethnicity, body mass index, medical conditions as well as social deprivation.
Once the tool was developed, the researchers had to test it.
From an additional 2.54 million people’s health records, they used the new tool to predict who ran the greatest risk of developing lung cancer.
And CanPredict correctly identified more people who went on to develop lung cancer across five, six and 10-year forecasts.
It was also more sensitive than current recommended methods in predicting the risk.
Professor Julia Hippisley-Cox, senior author Oxford University, said: “Improving early diagnosis of lung cancer is incredibly important both for the NHS, but especially for patients and their families.
“We hope that this new validated risk tool will help better prioritise patients for screening and ultimately help spot lung cancer earlier when treatments are more likely to help.”
It’s a positive step.