Lung cancer is more easily treated if picked up early
Researchers have taken a step towards starting a national lung cancer screening programme.
The government-backed Liverpool University team want to test using CT scans to detect early disease in those who have not yet developed symptoms.
Lung cancer kills 33,500 people a year in the UK and a screening trial of thousands of individuals is "urgently" needed to save lives, say researchers.
They are currently carrying out a feasibility study.
Assuming the findings are positive, a two-centre pilot study could be in place within six months.
It comes after a report from the National Cancer Research Institute found that lung cancer had the highest incidence but the lowest investment.
Around a 100 people a day are diagnosed with the condition but many already have late stage disease and have little chance of survival.
"We're currently doing a feasibility study about how we can get the systems in place to carry out a trial," said Professor John Field, director of the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Research Programme, at the University of Liverpool.
"Assuming that is accepted we would request to do a pilot in six months time."
The team hope to eventually test 14,000 individuals - half of whom would undergo a lung CT scan.
They have already developed a risk questionnaire, which picks out those most likely to develop lung cancer in the next few years.
CT scans can pick up early-stage tumours, before symptoms are apparent.
These can be surgically removed, offering a good chance of survival.
The trial will look at how sensitive the test is at detecting cancer and the survival rates of those undergoing screening compared with those not tested.
Professor Field said: "The problem with lung cancer has been that many of these individuals are identified with late disease and possibly only have six months to live."
SYMPTOMS OF LUNG CANCER
A nagging, persistent cough
Recurrent chest infections
Shortness of breath
Coughing up bloody phlegm
An ache or chest pain with breathing or coughing
Unexplained loss of weight or appetite
"Screening to detect the disease before patients develop any symptoms is a method that urgently requires evaluation as surgical resection at an early stage of the disease remains the only realistic option for a cure."
He added that stopping smoking was still the only real way to reduce the risk of lung cancer.
Lung cancer has one of the worst survival rates of any cancer with only 7% of patients still alive five years after diagnosis.
However, if some types of lung cancer are detected at an early, operable stage, then a five-year survival rate can be as high as 80%.
A smaller trial of screening for lung cancer in 1,300 patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease - a degenerative lung condition largely caused by smoking - was announced by Cancer Research UK earlier this year.
Professor Mike Richards, National Clinical Director for Cancer welcomed the research.
"Lung cancer remains the leading cause of death from cancer.
"Methods to detect the disease early, at a stage when it is curable, are urgently needed, alongside efforts to prevent the disease by reducing smoking."