Publish date: 24 April 2023

Sandra Wilson.jpg
Sandra Wilson, whose lung cancer was found though a lung health check

A Cheshire woman has spoken about how she believes a lung health check saved her life when it found she had lung cancer at an early stage.

“You never think going on Facebook would change your life but in my case, it did!” said Sandra Wilson, who lives in Runcorn.

Sandra is one of more than 1,750 people whose lung cancer was spotted by a scan in the Targeted Lung Health Check programme, where smokers or ex-smokers who fit certain criteria are asked to have a check-up.

The Lung MOTs, located in mobile trucks in car parks, launched in 2018 in areas of the country with the lowest lung cancer survival rates – and they have already made an impact on earlier diagnosis. 

More than 300,000 (313,387) across England have already taken up the offer and the trucks have diagnosed more than 1,750 (1,779) people with lung cancer. Over three quarters (76%) were caught at stage one or two, compared with just a third caught at early stages in 2018.

People diagnosed with lung cancer at the earliest stage are nearly 20 times more likely to survive for five years than those whose cancer is caught late.

Now at 43 sites across the country, the mobile trucks scan those most at risk from lung cancer, including current and ex-smokers, inviting them for an on-the-spot chest scan for those at the highest risk. Sites locally are St Helens, south Sefton, Liverpool, Knowsley and Halton, where Sandra was diagnosed.

Sandra said: “I was just scrolling and an advert popped for the lung health check. I fitted the criteria – I was the right age and I used to smoke, although I gave up decades earlier.

“I then received a letter inviting me for the check a few days later. For a fleeting moment, it crossed my mind not to go. I felt well, I didn’t have any symptoms, plus it was near Christmas so things were busy. However, I realised it was important and so rang there and then.”

Sandra had a telephone appointment with a triage nurse who asked her questions about her general health and smoking history. She said Sandra would benefit from a CT scan, based in a mobile unit parked on a supermarket car park in Runcorn.

Sandra said: “It was so convenient that I agreed to have the scan. I actually combined the trip with my weekly shop! I was there for less than 10 minutes!”

Sandra said that as she had no symptoms she almost forgot about the check and was surprised when she received a phone call from the lung health check team.

“It was probably a week after my scan and they told me they found a nodule larger than what they’d expect to find, and would I go for a PET scan,” said Sandra. “It was after this scan that I went to see the doctor and she explained that I had very early stage lung cancer and would need surgery to remove it.

“She said it would be keyhole surgery, which was a big relief. She also said that from what they could see, it hadn’t spread. I was still obviously very frightened. It was scary and, even though it had been caught early, all kinds of thing go through your head. But I felt so fortunate that it had been caught so early.

“I went into hospital on 22nd March 2022, had the surgery the next day and was back home on Mothers’ Day. Less than a week after my operation, I went out for a meal with my daughter to the pub. Within two weeks, I was doing my own cooking and just getting back to normal. That’s how quick my recovery was.

“Seven weeks after surgery, we went on holiday to Devon. People were so shocked that I had had surgery for lung cancer so recently. They said I looked so well, and I felt it. I didn’t know you could have lung cancer and feel as well as I do. And it’s all because I replied to that advert and letter.”

Not only do the lung trucks scan for cancer, but they have also identified thousands of people with other undiagnosed conditions including respiratory and cardiovascular disease, enabling them to access the treatment they need earlier, and helping to prevent potential hospitalisations.

You can find out more about the lung health check programme in Cheshire and Merseyside here:

You can watch a video about Sandra here.