New Lung Cancer Screening Technique Could Improve Survival
Dec. 28, 1999 (Atlanta) -- Smokers can now glimpse the interior of their
lungs, sufficient motivation for many to quit the habit forever, as one study
Researchers have identified a procedure that could make possible regular
screenings for lung cancer, considered one of the most lethal forms of the
disease. Called helical computerized tomography (CT), the scanning technology
detects signs of lung cancer at a much earlier and more curable stage than when
seen on a chest X-ray -- and with much lower dose of radiation than with
standard X-rays or CT imaging.
Study author Georgeann McGuinness, MD, of New York University Medical
Center, tells WebMD, "The technique shows a lot of promise ... and the
public ... is clamoring to have this examination. However, the data is not
established yet as to exactly who should be screened, how frequently should be
screened ... every six months, every two years? There is a whole host of
questions that should be answered."
The study involved two centers -- New York Presbyterian Hospital and New
York University Medical Center -- where 1,000 healthy people over age 60, who
had been smoking for more than 10 years, underwent the helical CT screening
procedure in the ongoing Early Lung Cancer Action Project (ELCAP).
Reporting its second-year results in November, lead author Claudia Henschke,
MD, said that better than 80% of the cancers identified in the program were
early-stage tumors -- tumors that can be curable if they are surgically
removed. The study was published in the July 10 issue of the journal The
Of 31 early-stage tumors found through the screening program during the past
two years, 30 of the patients have survived surgery, reports Henschke, who is
with the Weill Medical College of Cornell University and New York Presbyterian
Only one person refused surgery, and she died, Henschke says. A good number
of people were convinced to quit the smoking habit forever, she adds.
The 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," Henschke
tells WebMD. They later contacted the people, and 69, or 23%, said they'd
"When you think that it's the number-one cancer killer in the world, it
has a major health impact," says Henschke. "We should be able to
increase even more by doing repeat annual screening. [This] opens a new world
for early lung cancer intervention. It changes [lung cancer] from being such a
fatal, nihilistic disease to one that has high cure rates."
While the technology is available in all large medical centers, the level of
expertise in interpreting the images and managing patient care is not, says
McGuinness. "A source of concern is the high number of lesions detected in
high-risk patients -- those who are older and have been smoking for many years,
and typically have numerous abnormalities in their lungs. The vast majority of
these lesions are going to be benign, so you can't simply assume it's a cancer
and send them to surgery."