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New Lung Cancer Screening Technique Could Improve Survival

Lung cancer, screening


While several similar, small trials of this screening tool are now underway, the NIH is considering a national randomized clinical trial -- considered the gold standard for assessing the value and guidelines used in such procedures, says McGuinness.

Other national smoking cessation programs generally get about 6% of smokers to quit, whereas the ELCAP program inspired 20% to give up their habit. "We consider a cessation rate of over 20% as very good," Joann Shellenbach, a spokesman for the American Cancer Society, tells WebMD.

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.

Lung cancer is considered one of the deadliest cancers, largely because it is typically not detected in the early stages, when it is most curable. "There are no symptoms in the early stages," says Shellenbach. "Rarely is it found [in the very early stages]. Usually that's a serendipitous finding when the patient is having surgery for another reason. Occasionally, it might show up on a chest X-ray. And on the rare occasions it does turn up, it can be treated for a cure."

By the time patients develop symptoms -- shortness of breath, coughing, bloody sputum -- the cancer has grown to the size of an orange, or has spread to other organs. "In cancers caught at the later stage, there's a 10% to 14% five-year survival rate, whereas for those caught early, survival moves up to 80%," she says.

In later stages of lung cancer, "There's a lot of discomfort because of the fluid that builds up. People have lot of trouble with it. If you marched school children through places where we treat people for lung cancer, we would have a lot less children smoking," says Shellenbach. "There's the difficulty breathing ... it's like drowning in your own fluid. It affects your life enormously. For decades, there has been a desire to find a screening tool for lung cancer."

Vital Information:

  • A new scanning technique can detect lung cancer while it is still in the early, curable stage.
  • More than one-fifth of patients who view their lung scans actually quit smoking.
  • Researchers are still unsure about which populations should get the lung scans and how often they should be given.

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