A welcome step toward lung cancer screening

December 1 2020

Lung Foundation Australia welcomes Cancer Australia’s recommendation to create a life-saving national lung cancer screening program. 

The proposal for a targeted screening program was released on Monday after a 12-month enquiry into the prospects, process and delivery of an Australian lung cancer screening program. 

The enquiry, launched in August 2019 by Minister for Health Greg Hunt, was a key component of Lung Foundation Australia’s national strategic action plan released last year, and the focus of patient-led advocacy for the past 15 months. 

Cancer Australia CEO Dorothy Keefe, introducing the findings, said national and international evidence showed a screening program in high-risk Australians could detect cancers early, when treatment was most likely to be successful. 

“It is estimated that in the first 10 years of a lung cancer screening program in Australia, over 70 per cent of all screen-detected lung cancers would be diagnosed at an early stage; (and) over 12,000 deaths would be prevented,” Prof Keefe said. 

With lung cancer having a greater proportional impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the recommended screening program would focus on smokers aged 50-74 in that population but it would also target other vulnerable Australians, either current or former smokers, aged 55 to 74. 

Lung Foundation Australia chairperson, Prof Christine Jenkins AM, said a national screening program  would change the lives of thousands of Australians,  

“Early diagnosis of lung cancer is proven to lead to better health, social and economic outcomes for patients, their families and carers,’’ Prof Jenkins said. 

“At present, lung cancer has the lower survival rate of any of the major cancers and the lack of a national screening program has directly contributed to this. 

“We will work with Government and all stakeholders, including our consumers and clinicians, to make lung cancer screening a reality. We thank Cancer Australia and Minister Hunt for their  leadership in delivering this report.” 

Lung cancer is Australia’s biggest cancer killer and has a devastating impact on the lives of thousands of Australians every year, yet it receives less than five per cent of dedicated government cancer research funding. 

Lung Foundation Australia CEO Mark Brooke said a screening program was a “promising step” toward  more equitable funding of services that support Australians experiencing lung cancer..   

“This report will bring hope to thousands of Australians and lead to early detection of lung cancer which is critical to optimal treatment,” he said. 

Key points of the Cancer Australia report 

  • Lung cancer screening program to be implemented in stages, fully implemented within four years; 
  • Would reduce lung cancer mortality in Australia by 20 per cent in screened population;  
  • National screening register a core component, supporting integrated research program;  
  • Screening program, through data collection and sharing, to complement existing primary prevention strategies;  
  • Screening an opportunity for health education, with smoking cessation integral component of program; 
  • Costings include $11m for mobile screening van; 
  • Two-step eligibility process: age/smoking history and risk assessment application. Under criteria (50-74yo Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population; 55-74yo other Australians current/former smokers), about 2.9m people in parameters; 
  • Would align with and complement other Australian cancer screening programs.