Skip to main content
  • Home
  • News & Stories
  • Groundbreaking Lung Check Programme was like ‘hand of god’ for Thurrock cancer patient

Groundbreaking Lung Check Programme was like ‘hand of god’ for Thurrock cancer patient

Groundbreaking Lung Check Programme was like ‘hand of god’ for Thurrock cancer patient

(Published 29 November 2021)

A grandfather who had been suffering from breathlessness has urged the public to take their health seriously, after a free cancer check revealed he had lung cancer.

L-R: Keith, pictured with his wife Maria, had suspected something might be wrong with his lungs; Dr Sara Astbury urges anyone with possible symptoms of cancer to seek medical attention

A grandfather-of-six who only discovered he had lung cancer after participating in a groundbreaking early diagnosis programme has urged the public not to discount possible symptoms of the disease and to take up screening invitations without delay.

Keith, 68, from Thurrock, has shared his experiences during Lung Cancer Awareness Month in a bid to remind others that time is of the essence when it comes to diagnosing and successfully treating lung cancer. In Thurrock alone, around 110 people are diagnosed with this form of cancer each year.

In Keith’s case, he suspected there might be something wrong with his lungs because he had been feeling breathless – something he and his wife Maria thought could be related to the smoking habit he had given up five years previously, and the time he had spent working in roofing, when he was exposed to asbestos. He hadn’t sought help from his GP, but when an invitation arrived in June 2021 to have his lungs checked he didn’t hesitate to take it up.

He had been invited to participate in the NHS’s Targeted Lung Health Check Programme, which has been rolled out in areas of England such as Thurrock that have some of the highest rates of mortality from lung cancer.

It is thought that poor public awareness of the disease’s early warning signs is resulting in patients presenting with symptoms only when their cancer is at an advanced stage, and subsequently more difficult to treat. 

Under the programme, which is being delivered locally by the Mid and South Essex Integrated Care Board, people who have ever smoked, aged between 55 and 75 who are identified as being at risk of lung cancer are sent for a free check to determine whether they are at high risk of developing the disease. If they are, they are invited within two weeks for a CT scan.

The Targeted Lung Health Check programme has continued to make progress during the Covid-19 pandemic, sparing many more people the distress of living with advanced lung cancer.

Keith said: “It was all really simple. I did the phone call, they invited me really quickly for a CT scan, which was fine, then they said they found something. I went to Southend Hospital for a PET Scan, then lung function tests and everything happened really quickly from there.

“They told me I had cancer, specifically a 3.5cm tumour in my lungs, and before I knew it I was in surgery having the tumour removed. This part was successful, but recovery has been difficult.”

“I won’t lie, this hasn’t been easy. It’s knocked me for six but if I hadn’t have taken up the offer, it could have been a lot worse. I feel like the hand of God came down when the lung check invite arrived.”

Dr Andrea Oustayiannis, Macmillan GP for Thurrock said: “It’s critically important that patients attend health checks and cancer screening tests when invited, and that if they do have any concerns about cancer symptoms, they speak to a health professional as soon as possible. To make it easier for the public to identify potential signs and symptoms of cancer, I’ve been working with Mid and South Essex clinicians to produce new resources that break down possible warning signs. You can view our ‘ABCD’ guides to common cancer symptoms by visiting”

Dr Sara Astbury, anther Macmillan GP based in Essex, also stressed the importance of being vigilant, saying: “If you receive an invite to have your lungs checked, you shouldn’t think twice about taking it up. It could be that you’re all clear and it’s just a case of putting your mind at rest, but if you’re not, and you need to start treatment, that invitation could well save your life your life.

“Even if you’re not eligible for the programme, you should never dismiss any possible signs of cancer. Lung cancer can advance very quickly and stealthily, so keeping an eye out for possible symptoms at any age - even if they seem mild - and being proactive about getting them checked, can be key to securing an early diagnosis. As with other cancers, if it is picked up in the early stages there is a much higher chance of treatment being successful.

“We all know that a cough can be a common symptom of Covid-19, or another common viral infection, but if your cough persists for three weeks or more it could be a sign of something else. If that’s the case, please do make an appointment with your GP - they want to help you and if there is any suspicion of cancer will refer you for further tests.  

“If you are concerned about lung cancer, contact your GP or call the free Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 00 00 (seven days a week, 8am-8pm) for medical, practical and emotional support.”

Find out more about the signs and symptoms of lung cancer by visiting the Macmillan website: