The findings from a recent study show the risk of dying from lung cancer could be reduced by 20 percent by use of a low-dose helical computed tomography (CT) scan.Â With 160,000 deaths each year related to cigarette smoking, this type of screening could save up to 32,000 lives each year.
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) launched the multicenter National Lung Screening Trial (NLST) in 2002,Â led at Emory by radiologist and researcher Dr. Kay Vydareny.Â This trial compared two ways of detecting lung cancer: low-dose helical (spiral) computed tomography (CT) and standard chest X-ray, for their effects on lung cancer death rates in a high-risk population.
Both chest X-rays and helical CT scans have been used as a means to find lung cancer early, but the effects of these screening techniques on lung cancer mortality rates had not been determined. Over a 20-month period, more than 53,000 current or former heavy smokers ages 55 to 74 joined NLST at 33 study sites across the United States. In November 2010, the initial findings from NLST were released. Participants who received low-dose helical CT scans had a 20 percent lower risk of dying from lung cancer than participants who received standard chest X-rays.
There are some risks with using CT scans, however. The scans can sometimes detect suspicious abnormalities that do not turn out to be lung cancer â€“ known as false positives. Many of these abnormalities are scars from smoking, areas of inflammation or other noncancerous conditions that may require additional testing to determine that they are not harmful. These tests have been known to cause undue anxiety for patients and may sometimes lead to biopsies or surgeries.
It is certainly an individualâ€™s choice whether they want to be screened for lung cancer with a CT scan if they have no symptoms. However, it is important to make certain that such individuals have complete information and be well-informed before having such a scan. If a patient has symptoms, such as a persistent cough, weight loss, persistent hoarseness or trouble breathing, he or she should see a physician as soon as possible. Often these symptoms are due to something other than lung cancer, but more tests should be performed to make certain.
What should a person at high-risk for lung cancer do?Â The answer that all physicians agree on is to stop smoking right now, the sooner the better. Or even better â€¦ donâ€™t start smoking ever, further reducing the chances of getting cancer or suffering from a stroke or heart attack as well.