VICTORIA -- The B.C. government is launching a new, proactive lung cancer screening program which is said to be the first-of-its-kind across Canada.

Approximately 70 per cent of all lung cancer patients in B.C. are diagnosed after the cancer has entered a late stage and symptoms have begun to appear.

Now, the province hopes to have lung cancer detected at an earlier point through a new screening program, which will lead to better outcomes for those who are diagnosed with the illness.

“At a time when we are dealing with the challenges of COVID-19, it’s easy to forget that many families around the province are grappling with a cancer diagnosis,” said B.C. Premier John Horgan Monday.

“Cancer doesn’t wait for global pandemics, and we know that early detection can save lives. Our new lung cancer screening program will mean more treatment options, faster recovery and better outcomes for people around the province,” he said.

The new screening program will first target adults between the age of 55 to 74 who are smokers or who have a history of heavy smoking.

Approximately 300 people will be diagnosed through the screening program each year, which is expected to begin by spring 2022.

“In 2020, an estimated 3,300 people in B.C. will be diagnosed with lung cancer,” said Health Minister Adrian Dix in a statement Monday.

“Through early detection with this new lung cancer screening program, we will see survival rates dramatically improve.”

Approximately six British Columbians die of lung cancer every day, according to the provincial government.

It is the most common cause of cancer-related deaths in Canada and across the world.

“More people die of lung cancer than colon, breast and prostate cancers combined,” said Benoit Morin, president and chief executive officer of the Provincial Health Services Authority.

“With the new lung cancer screening program, we will have the opportunity to make a tangible difference in the lives of thousands of British Columbians, thanks to early detection and intervention,” he said.