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Smokers Give Up Cigarettes After Seeing Their Lung Scans


WebMD Health News

Nov. 30, 1999 (Chicago) -- When smokers get a look at the abnormalities in their lungs found in cancer screening programs, a high percentage of them give up cigarettes.

"About 23% of smokers who looked at their scans quit smoking," said Claudia Henschke, MD, PhD, professor of radiology and division chief of chest imaging at Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York.

The people had participated in an ongoing study in which people over 60 who had smoked at least a pack of cigarettes a day for 10 years underwent computed tomography (CT) screening, a procedure that is more sensitive than X-rays in finding tiny lung cancers.

Henschke said researchers interviewed 307 of the people and found that about half were still smoking at the time of the exam. "Most of these patients had abnormalities on their CT images. We showed them their films. Later, when we contacted these people, they said they had stopped smoking," Henschke tells WebMD. In fact, 69 of the people said they'd stopped smoking, and 23% said that they had cut back on their smoking, she said.

In reports presented at the 85th Scientific Assembly and Annual Meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, Henschke said national smoking cessation programs generally produced a cessation rate of only about 6%.

"We consider a cessation rate greater than 20% as very good," Joann Schellenbach, a spokesman for the American Cancer Society, tells WebMD.

Schellenbach said that one concern about screening raised by professionals is that smokers might believe that a screening test that doesn't show cancer would give them justification to continue with their habit. But she said the study results might show that concern might be misplaced. "Seeing abnormalities on your own CT lung image can be pretty motivating," she said.

In addition to the smoking cessation statistics, Henschke also said that the general screening program, now reporting its second-year results, said that better than 80% of the cancers identified in the program were early-stage tumors -- tumors which can be curable if they are surgically removed. Henschke said that of 31 early-stage tumors found through the test screening program during the past two years, 30 of the patients have survived surgery.

"The only patient who refused surgery, a woman, died," Henschke said, emphasizing that these early tumors can be lethal if they are not treated promptly.

More than 171,000 lung cancers are diagnosed in the U.S. each year and 158,000 people die from the disease -- a greater death toll than breast cancer, prostate cancer, and colorectal cancer combined.

Henschke reported on the first phase of the screening study last year. In that study, 1,000 smokers or former smokers over age 60 were screened with both X-rays and CT scans. The CT scans were far more proficient in finding smaller cancers in the lungs -- and 82% of those lesions were early stage I cancers.

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