Data shows importance of early diagnosis of lung cancer

27 Jul 2015 | Health Quality Intelligence

The Health Quality & Safety Commission has released a new Atlas of Healthcare Variation domain, focusing on diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer in public hospitals.

Lung cancer is one of the most commonly reported cancers in New Zealand and patients have a lower survival rate compared with many other cancers.

Treatment for lung cancer patients was a primary focus of the Atlas, including surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Treatment at an early stage of disease may cure the cancer and can be used at a later stage to prolong and improve quality of life.

Key findings include:

  • New Zealand’s overall treatment rate was similar to patients in the United Kingdom.
  • 75 percent of lung cancer patients had advanced stage disease at diagnosis (New South Wales, 49 percent, 2004–07; Northern Ireland, 57 percent, 2004–07).
  • 61 percent of lung cancer patients had some form of anti-cancer treatment (radiotherapy, chemotherapy or surgery) (England and Wales, 67.5 percent, 2012).
  • There was little variation between district health boards (DHBs) except for surgery and chemotherapy for one of the two types of lung cancer (small cell lung cancer).
  • 42 percent of lung cancer patients had radiotherapy treatment (England and Wales, 30 percent, 2012).
  • 14 percent of non-small cell lung cancer patients had surgery (England and Wales, 21.9 percent, 2012; Australia, 23.8 percent in Victoria, 2003) and 20 percent were dispensed chemotherapy drugs (Australia, 39.5 percent in Victoria, 2003).
  • 66 percent of small cell lung cancer patients were dispensed chemotherapy drugs (England and Wales, 67.5 percent, 2012).

Most lung cancer in New Zealand is diagnosed at an advanced stage of disease, and National Clinical Director - Cancer, Ministry of Health and Atlas lung cancer expert advisory group Chair, Dr Andrew Simpson, says it is important for the cancer to be identified early to provide the best outcomes for the patient.

Dr Simpson says symptoms of lung cancer vary and warning signs are not always obvious.

‘If people – particularly those with a smoking history – have had a cough for more than three weeks, they should see their family doctor. It is important their doctor is aware of their smoking history.’

‘Smoking is a well known risk factor for lung cancer and the most effective way to prevent the development of lung cancer is to stop smoking. Reducing exposure to second-hand smoke is also effective.’

Dr Simpson encourages DHBs to review their diagnosis and treatment pathways for lung cancer patients to identify opportunities for earlier diagnosis.

The New Zealand Cancer Plan 2015–18, launched by the Minister of Health Dr Jonathan Coleman in December 2014, has early diagnosis as a key focus.

The Government is continuing to progress toward its goal of Smokefree Aotearoa 2025, and this data forms a key reference point in moves to reduce smoking rates nationally.

The lung cancer Atlas domain is available here.

Last updated 27/07/2015