Only half as many lung cancer patients in England are getting potentially lifesaving surgery compared to the best countries in the world, according to a new report by the National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN).

The report, launched today at the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) Cancer Conference in Liverpool, looked at all newly diagnosed lung cancer patients in England between 2004-2006 and followed them up for six months after diagnosis using routine NHS data* to see whether they had surgery to treat the disease in an NHS Trust in England.

The findings showed that overall nine per cent of lung cancer patients had surgery** whereas experts suggest in many parts of the world around 20 per cent are being operated on. This could, at least in part, explain why England’s five-year lung cancer survival lags behind the rest of the world.

These data also show that 14 per cent of men and women aged 50-59 have surgery to treat the disease compared to nine per cent of those aged 70-79. And for the over 80s, the numbers having surgery dropped to just two per cent.

These figures show a worryingly low number of people are having surgery for lung cancer in England. We should be matching the best in the world with around 20 per cent of lung cancer patients undergoing surgery. Not all lung cancer patients will be eligible for surgery as this depends on the stage of their cancer or whether they have any other diseases. However these data still show that only half compared to the best in the world are having this potentially lifesaving treatment. And this may be a major reason why the long term survival figures for patients with lung cancer in England are not as good as they could be. We need to understand why this is happening. Do we need more lung cancer surgeons or are patients simply being diagnosed too late for surgery?

Dr Mick Peake, Consultant Chest Physician at Glenfield Hospital, Leicester and Clinical Lead for the NCIN


This study highlights the importance of collecting information on the treatments received by cancer patients across the country. Where there is variation among patients receiving surgery we must look carefully to understand the reasons for this. The low rate of lung cancer surgery is likely to be due in part to late diagnosis. We know that earlier diagnosis can save lives, that is why we are launching a new campaign from January to alert people to the early signs and symptoms of lung, bowel and breast cancer. We will publish an updated cancer strategy in the winter setting the future direction for cancer care.

Professor Sir Mike Richards, National Cancer Director