Liverpool cancer patient urges people to attend lung health check

A large white truck with steps leading up to it. The text on the side of the truck reads "Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital" and "Cheshire and Merseyside Cancer Alliance"
A large white truck with steps leading up to it. The text on the side of the truck reads "Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital" and "Cheshire and Merseyside Cancer Alliance"

A Liverpool cancer patient who is now free of the disease is urging people to go for a lung check-up if they are offered one.

NHS lung health checks have been rolling out across Cheshire and Merseyside – with more areas joining in next year – and 71-year-old Owen McGrath is grateful he did not ignore the offer of one earlier this year as it was through the free test that cancer was found growing inside his left lung.

Owen, from Childwall, had been feeling unwell for some weeks before the time of the test, with a suspected bad chest infection, so when he received the letter for the Targeted Lung Health Check, he did not hesitate to have the appointment, which was in a mobile unit at Hunts Cross Retail Park.

“It was really simple,” said Owen, speaking during Lung Cancer Awareness Month. “I just turned up, they gave me the scan there and then and I went home. A couple of weeks later they came back to me to say there was something on the scan that they wanted to investigate further.”

Ex-smoker Owen eventually had treatment at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre and Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital in Broadgreen to reduce the size of tumour and eventually remove it through surgery. Now he has been given the all-clear.

“I’m just so glad I went for the check,” said Owen. “I didn’t expect it to show anything at all, but I later got a call to say they had found something. It was a shock, but it meant I was then given more in-depth scans and tests before they confirmed that it was cancer. They told me on my birthday but, to be honest, I was just glad they had caught it!”

The Targeted Lung Health Checks, now running in Liverpool, St Helens, South Sefton, Halton and Knowsley can spot cancer in its earliest stages, often before any symptoms are noticed, but even though Owen’s cancer was well developed he had not experienced the usual signs of lung cancer.

The project, now facilitated by Cheshire and Merseyside Cancer Alliance, has been running in the sub-region since 2019 and the latest figures show that almost 50,000 checks have taken place, with around 35,000 scans carried out and 214 cancers found ­– 85% in the earliest stages when treatment is more successful.

After cancer was diagnosed, Owen had a new treatment at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre to try to reduce the tumour, with the therapy designed to shrink the cancer so that surgery could more easily remove it.

Owen had two cycles of neo-adjuvant chemo-immunotherapy, designed to help his body’s own immune system to fight the cancer. He did not have to undergo a third cycle as the therapy had already worked so well that the tumour reduced in size sufficiently to allow surgery at Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital to be a success with the removal of part of his lung.

Owen is married to Hazel and has a stepson, daughter-in-law and a grandson. He was the first to have this type of pre-surgery treatment at Clatterbridge after clinical research trials into the therapy showed highly positive outcomes for patients suitable for it.

“The treatment wasn’t too bad in the end,” said Owen. “When people think about lung cancer, they think it's a death sentence, especially if the cancer is growing like mine was, but that is just not true. The treatments they have now mean that you have a chance to get through it.

“I thought that the treatment itself would be hard on me, but I found it okay – and I'm still alive!”

Owen does not need any further treatment but will be monitored regularly. “I have been fine since the surgery and have been very well looked after,” he said. “What I would say to anyone who is offered a lung health check is to do it. Act on it immediately. You can’t ignore a free check-up – it could save your life!”

Owen’s Oncology Consultant at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, Dr Carles Escriu, emphasised the importance of people attending their lung check appointment if invited because patients are being cured of their disease if it is found early enough.

He said: “Attending the Targeted Lung Health Check appointments is saving lives in our region. We regularly see patients who have been diagnosed early because of it and they are accessing curative treatments.

“Lung cancer is associated with negative stigma and guilt, and there is an inherited fear to cancer therapy that discourages patients from accessing early diagnosis.

“Most patients that have neoadjuvant chemo-immunotherapy are having excellent responses and cope much better with the treatment than those patients with extensive, incurable disease.”

Dr Escriu said the duration of the new treatment was much shorter than previous therapies, taking only nine weeks before surgery, and in a substantial proportion of patient’s cancer cells were not found in samples after surgery. “Those patients are very likely to be cured,” he said.

Dr Escriu added: “If you or anybody in your family have been invited to a Targeted Lung Health Check appointment, please do attend or nag your relative to attend. We prefer stories with a good ending at Clatterbridge, and I am sure you will do, too!”