A DRAMATIC increase in the availability of vital scanning equipment is needed to improve the care of lung cancer patients and avoid pointless surgery, experts said today.

There are currently only ten positron emission tomography (PET) scanners in the UK - mostly in the London area.

The nearest is in Manchester but patients from the North-East referred for a PET scan tend to go to London.

Officials in the North-East believe the huge costs of the scanners could mean that cancer treatment networks may have to share a scanner.

Lung cancer specialists said they needed at least 34 of the £1m scanners to cover England.

Lung cancer is the UK's biggest cancer killer, accounting for more than 33,000 deaths in 2003.

PET scans are used to tell whether a growth is cancerous and whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. If a tumour is found to have spread, then surgery would be pointless.

Moira Davidson, director of the Newcastle-based Northern Cancer Network, said: "Because PET scanners and cyclotrons cost more than £5m, I think we have got to have a joint venture."