Experts fear thousands of additional UK Lung Cancer deaths due to pandemic

Survival improvements in ‘jeopardy’ unless urgent action taken says new report

Hard-won gains in improving lung cancer outcomes are now in ‘jeopardy’ with ‘thousands of additional lung cancer deaths’ feared as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, says a report published today (25th November 2021) by the UK Lung Cancer Coalition (UKLCC).

“Prior to the pandemic, real progress was being made in raising five-year survival rates,” says Professor Robert Rintoul, chair of the UKLCC’s clinical advisory group, and Professor of Thoracic Oncology, University of Cambridge. “But COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on early diagnosis of lung cancer and has compromised our target of driving up five-year UK survival to 25 percent by 2025.”

Estimates reveal that delays in diagnosis caused by COVID-19 lockdowns may result in a drop of up to 5.3% in five-year survival in England1 – from 17.6% (for patients diagnosed 2014 to 2018) pre-pandemic– to around 12.3% for those diagnosed during the pandemic. This could equate to over two and a half thousand additional deaths in the UK.3

“Lung cancer patients have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Government guidance to stay at home with a cough, reluctance to engage with healthcare services during lockdown, and pressures on already over-burdened health services, have inevitably resulted in a fall in referrals and increase in late-stage presentations of the disease. We need to take urgent action to get back on track,” adds Professor Rintoul.

The UKLCC’s ’Route back to 25 by 25’ report, compiled by lung cancer clinicians and nurse specialists from across the UK, is demanding a ‘levelling up’ in lung cancer, with a fully funded, screening programme across all four UK nations. In addition, it is calling for twice-yearly national and regional public awareness campaigns, linked to a dedicated lung cancer helpline, to ensure easy access to support and diagnosis for patients, without placing an additional burden on primary care.

Lung cancer has consistently been the UK’s biggest cancer killer with 35,100 people dying each year. It accounts for more than a fifth of all UK cancer deaths (21%)4 – and lung cancer in never smokers is the eighth most common cause of cancer-related death in the UK.5 However, lung cancer can be cured if diagnosed early enough. The UK has one of the worst five-year lung cancer survival rates in Europe.6

Other key recommendations in the report, include:

“It has been heart-breaking to see the hard work and achievements of those involved in lung cancer care impacted so enormously by COVID-19. We must rally together and ensure that the pre-pandemic progress in lung cancer outcomes was not in vain. We can fix UK lung cancer,” says Martin Grange, Chair of the UKLCC.


About the report

Entitled ‘The Route back to 25 to 25’, the report is based on the outcomes of a meeting of the UKLCC’s Clinical Advisory Group in June 2021 plus follow-up interviews with clinical leaders in each of the four UK nations. Unlike our previous report, COVID-19 Matters (published October 2020), it looks beyond the impact of the first wave of the pandemic and provides a series of recommendations which offer a ‘route-back’ to delivering on our original 2016 survival ambition: to re-double five-year lung cancer survival to 25 percent by 2025. To view our reports, visit:

About the UKLCC

The UK Lung Cancer Coalition (UKLCC) is the UK’s largest multi-interest group in lung cancer. It was set up in 2005 with the founding ambition to tackle poor lung cancer survival outcomes and, specifically, to double five-year survival by 2015, which was effectively achieved. It is now looking to redouble five-year survival to 25 percent by 2025. The UKLCC’s membership includes leading lung cancer experts, senior NHS professionals, charities, and healthcare companies with an interest in fighting lung cancer. For more information about our work and members, visit:


  3. Accessed on 21 November 2021 and available from:
  4. on 21 November 2021 Nov 2021 and available from:

Media Enquiries

For media enquiries, please contact:

Lynsey Conway, UKLCC Communications Consultant
07778 304233 or