Emergency hospital admission is still the most common route for diagnosing lung cancer, figures show.
The UK Lung Cancer Coalition (UKLCC) described the findings as a travesty and called for coordinated efforts to reduce late diagnosis.
Patients diagnosed via emergency are more than five times more likely to die within one year of diagnosis than those referred for treatment by their GP.
In England, around 40% of people with lung cancer first reach specialist care via an emergency admission to hospital.
In addition, across the country there is a five-fold variation in the proportion of lung cancers first diagnosed via an emergency.
“The UK has some of the worst lung cancer survival rates in Europe. This is because lung cancer is being diagnosed too late, often after an emergency presentation,” said Professor Mick Peake, clinical director, Centre for Cancer Outcomes, and chair of the UKLCC’s Clinical Advisory Group, which authored the report.
According to the Office of National Statistics, 88% of lung cancer patients will survive for at least a year if diagnosed early (stage 1), compared to only 19% who are diagnosed with the most advanced stage of disease.
The UKLCC’s report lays out 10 key recommendations for diagnosing lung cancer earlier in order to increase lung cancer survival.
These include yearly funding of public awareness and action campaigns, encouraging the use of stop smoking services, rolling out the new 28-day cancer Faster Diagnosis Standard and National Lung Cancer Pathway across England, and supporting the roll out of lung health checks with a nationally centralised data collection, collation and evaluation programme.
Richard Steyn, chair of the UKLCC and deputy medical director, University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, said there is no single silver bullet when it comes to increasing rates of early diagnosis in lung cancer.
“However, through consistent, wide ranging and coordinated efforts from across the lung cancer community, we can reduce late diagnosis, particularly through emergency presentation, and see a difference in the outcomes achieved across the UK,” he added.
Lung cancer remains the UK’s biggest cancer killer, with over 35,000 deaths each year.
The disease accounts for over a fifth of all UK cancer deaths and one in seven of all new UK cancer cases.