GPs are ‘missing opportunities’ to diagnosis lung cancer at an early stage, according to a study by scientists at the University of Nottingham.

The study looked at lung cancer cases in 20,142 people and found that 2,036 people died within 30 days of diagnosis, equal to one in ten, while 2,976 people died between 31 and 90 days after diagnosis, equal to around one in three. One in 20 were not diagnosed with the disease until after they had died.

Lung cancer is difficult to diagnose as many of the symptoms can appear to be other chest or lung-related conditions. Researchers have called for software to assist doctors in diagnosing the cancer; to enable them to enter lung cancer symptoms into a system to help identify the disease.

The research revealed that patients who had died visited their GP, on average, five times leading up to their diagnosis. The research also suggested that surgeries that carried out a significant number of chest x-rays did not see this translate into lower death rates.

The UK’s lung cancer survival rate currently stands at 30%, far lower than comparative countries including Sweden, whose survival rate is 16% higher than the UK’s.

Lung cancer is the biggest cause of cancer deaths in the UK with 35,000 people dying from the disease every year.

Madeleine Pinschof, a clinical negligence solicitor based in Thompsons Solicitors’ Bristol office, said: “Lung cancer is a devastating disease that remains one of the most fatal forms of cancer in the UK.

“The fact that one in 20 patients die before they are even diagnosed with the disease is a tragic consequence of delayed diagnosis and misdiagnosis.

“Early diagnosis is key to improving a cancer patient’s chances of survival, and these figures indicate that there is still much work to be done in the UK in improving the survival rate of lung cancer patients. This can be achieved by supporting doctors to diagnose the disease through advanced diagnostic software, as well as improved education and awareness of early symptoms.”