Nearly half of all lung cancer cases in Tayside are diagnosed at the last possible stage, reducing survival rates by 75%.
Figures published by NHS Scotland show 46% of all lung cancer diagnoses in the area in 2016-17 were made when the disease was at stage four. Less than 20% of people with stage four lung cancer survive for more than a year, according to Cancer Research UK.
Survival rates at stage one are more than 80% for the first year. However, the disease can be hard to detect in its early stages.
Among those fortunate enough to be diagnosed early was Shirley Dolan.
The 62-year-old was diagnosed after volunteering for an experimental blood test at Dundee University.
“I was invited by my GP because I was a smoker,” said Shirley, from Downfield.
“I was an auxiliary nurse at Ninewells and I just thought I’d go for it. I don’t know why, but I’m glad I did.”
After taking part in the study in March 2014, Shirley’s blood samples came back positive for cancer.
“I never had a single sign of being ill,” Shirley said. “All my family who smoked had coughs except me. I couldn’t believe it.”
She had surgery to remove a lobe on her right lung in July that year, and the cancer has never returned.
Shirley said: “I went for my four-year scan and everything was fine. I’ve got one more scan next year and after that you don’t have to go back.
“I had my last cigarette the night before my operation and I haven’t smoked since. It’s saved a lot of money and been better for my health.”
She urged people to take up any opportunity they can to get tested for early signs of cancer.
“Any invitation you get for anything like this you should do it. If I hadn’t gone, I would have carried on smoking and would never have known,” she said.
“I would only have been finding out about it later – and it might have been too late.”
Joseph Carter, head of British Lung Foundation Scotland, said: “Much more needs to be done to improve detection of lung cancer at a much earlier stage.
“Being able to screen people with a higher risk of developing lung cancer, such as people who smoke, even before they present with symptoms, could potentially help us save the lives of thousands of people. “
Lorraine Dallas, director of prevention, information and support at the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, said: “Unlike breast and bowel cancers, there is no national screening programme for lung cancer.
“We recognise the difficulties in setting up such a programme, but we ourselves have conducted research trials on lung health checks.
“We strongly feel it’s time such checks were offered throughout the UK.”
Dr Robin Smith, respiratory consultant with NHS Tayside, said: “Detecting cancer in its early stages increases the likelihood a patient can have a much better outcome.
“Currently there is not an effective screening test for lung cancer in the UK and quite often, people don’t seek help with early stage lung cancer because they have few or no symptoms.
“The main symptoms of lung cancer include a cough that doesn’t go away after two or three weeks, a long-standing cough that gets worse, persistent chest infections, coughing up blood, an ache or pain when breathing or coughing, persistent breathlessness, persistent tiredness, loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss. If you’re worried about any of these symptoms, see your GP as soon as possible.”