CHEST X-rays are missing nearly a quarter of lung cancer cases, researchers have found.
Experts say that the machines, which are one of the main methods for diagnosing the deadly disease, fail to detect up to 23 per cent of tumours.
The review, published in the British Journal of General Practice, claims that they are outdated and may partly explain why the UK’s survival rates are behind the rest of Europe.
Lung cancer is Britain’s biggest cancer killer and claims more than 35,000 lives every year.
Fewer than one in 10 patients survive beyond five years of being diagnosed and unlike many other cancers, rates haven’t improved much in 40 years.
Researchers from the University of Leeds and University of Exeter are now calling for X-rays – which cost around £25 each – to be scrapped as a first-line test for lung cancer.
Instead, they want to see them replaced by CT scans, which costs up to £500 and is more time-consuming.
Crunched the data
The team analysed data from 21 previous studies of more than 1,000 patients and found that X-rays spotted cancer between 77 and 80 per cent of the time.
They said: “X-ray has been with us for a long time, but surprisingly, there has been very little research into how accurate it is for diagnosing lung cancer.
“If chest X-ray were a novel technology, it is debatable whether the available evidence would be deemed sufficient to support its implementation as a diagnostic test for lung cancer.
X-ray has been with us for a long time, but surprisingly, there has been very little research into how accurate it is for diagnosing lung cancer
“Our lung cancer outcomes still lag behind other high income countries, with less patients diagnosed at early stages of the illness.
“There are likely to be many reasons for this, but this research suggests that one factor could be our reliance on chest X-ray, compared to other countries that make more use of tests like computed tomography scans.”
Know the signs
Primary lung cancer – which begins in the lungs, rather than spreading to them from another place – is the second most common type of cancer in Britain.
There are two types of lung cancer – 80 per cent of cases are non-small-cell, while small-cell lung cancer is a rarer type which spreads more quickly.
As with all cancers, knowing the early warning signs of lung cancer could save lives.
There are eight key symptoms you should be aware of:
- Having a cough most of the time
- A change in a cough you have had for a long time
- Being short of breath
- Coughing up phlegm (sputum) with signs of blood in it
- An ache or pain in the chest or shoulder
- Loss of appetite
- Tiredness (fatigue)
- Losing weight
Less common symptoms, usually associated with more advanced forms of the disease, include a hoarse voice, difficulty swallowing and pain and discomfort under the ribs, in the chest or shoulder.
Meanwhile, finger clubbing (a change in the shape of your fingers and nails), facial swelling and swelling in the neck are also signs to look out for.
Smoking is without doubt the biggest cause of lung cancer – and the length of time you have smoked is more important than how many cigarettes you smoke a day.
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Passive smoking can also increase the risk – but it’s difficult to know by exactly how much.
Meanwhile, a family history of lung cancer, or a personal history of cancer or lung disease are also risk factors.
And on top of that, exposure to air pollution, radon gas and other chemicals including asbestos can also raise the risk of the disease developing.