Published June 05, 2012
In recent years, some studies have shown that routine X-ray screenings have not helped prevent lung cancer deaths, while other research from The National Lung Screening Trial has demonstrated the benefits of low-dose spiral computed tomography (CT) scans.
Scientists found a 20 percent reduction in deaths from lung cancer among current or former heavy smokers who were screened with low-dose helical computed tomography (CT) versus those screened by chest X-ray. Benjamin Levy, assistant professor of medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, said this was the first study to report a reduction in lung cancer mortality, calling it "a game changer."
Conflicting medical opinions have turned lung cancer screening into a controversial topic for asymptomatic people. People at high-risk of developing cancer, on the other hand, are often advised to have cancer screenings. These include people over 55 with a history of smoking or second-hand smoke exposure, as well as anyone with occupational exposure to inhaled chemicals.
Levy said that over 60 percent of lung cancer patients are in advanced stages of the disease in which "the only option is palliative chemotherapy with no potential for cure." Screening can catch cancer before it develops this far.
Stewart Fleishman, leading lung cancer expert and author of "Learn to Live Through Cancer: What You Need to Know," said, "People at high risk need to know that there are significant immediate and long-term advantages to stop smoking and get screened for lung cancer."
Spiral CT scans can find growths in the lung before they cause symptoms, earlier than standard X-rays. Low-dose spiral CT is an advanced technology that can generate a three-dimensional image of internal structures in seconds. They are more successful at catching lung nodules (potentially cancerous cells). If found early enough, lung cancer may be cured or treated well.
These screenings are of the utmost importance because of the disease's prominence high fatality rate. The National Cancer Institute reports that lung cancer is the United States' most lethal cancer. It kills 150,000 people every year with a survival rate of 16 percent, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Trials that demonstrate the benefit of low-dose spiral CT scans
A NLST study of 54,000 at-risk people between the ages of 55 to 74 showed a 20 percent reduction in cancer-related death (compared with solely tumor surgery) from having three low-dose spiral CT screens per year.
After several cancer care organizations endorsed these findings, many cancer research cancers restructured accordingly. Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, for example, launched a lung nodule clinic and comprehensive lung cancer screening program for high-risk patients.
James L. Mulshine, scientist and vice president of the Rush University Medical Center, and his team of researchers conducted a large trial that corroborated the benefits of the low-dose spiral CT reduce lung cancer scans.
Some medical professionals do not endorse a lung cancer screening, saying it may reveal benign conditions that prompt invasive testing, such as a biopsy, exposing the patient to greater and unnecessary risks, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) concluded: "The evidence is insufficient to recommend for or against screening asymptomatic persons for lung cancer."
On the other hand, Fleishman said, "Although large studies do point out that at times the scans pick up spots that are inconsequential, and extra biopsies are done, on a one person at a time basis it can be a true life-saver."