Thousands of Australian smokers will be subjected to regular chest scans in an attempt to uncover cancer at the earliest possible stage, it was announced on Tuesday.

Results of the trial, being run by the Royal Melbourne Hospital, will inform policy-makers on whether a national screening programme for lung cancer, which kills more than 8,000 Australians every year, is a viable proposition, reports Xinhua news agency.

People at the highest risk of developing lung cancer, mostly heavy smokers older than 55, will be included in the trial where they will undergo regular computer topography (CT) scans.

Heather Allen, chief executive of the Lung Foundation Australia, said screening presented the best opportunity to reduce lung cancer deaths.

“There is an urgent need and an important opportunity for the government to rapidly implement an appropriate screening program in Australia that works within our healthcare setting,” Allen told the media on Tuesday.

Fewer than 14 per cent of the 10,000 Australians diagnosed with lung cancer every year are alive five years after their diagnosis.