Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Lung Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Frequent Lung Cancer Screening Benefit Goes Up in Smoke


The unexpected outcome led to a host of criticisms of the trial, with fingers pointing to the study design, the methods used, and the analysis. Critics argued that the researchers hadn't followed the men for long enough to see a benefit. Now, says Black, this very long-term follow-up of that study goes a long way toward clearing up the confusion.

By consulting the National Death Index, the team was able to assess the time and cause of death for more than 6,500 of the study participants. Even 20 years after the study, there was still "no significant decrease in lung cancer death with intense screening," says Black.

But shouldn't early detection, and the resulting treatment, help lower the number of lung cancer deaths? Not necessarily, the experts now agree, and here's why:

Overdiagnosis is the most likely explanation, says Marcus. "When you go looking for things, you find them." Intense screening reveals tumors you never would have picked up otherwise. They might be innocuous tumors that would probably not kill you before you died of other causes. If such a tumor is found, and treatment begun, the cure could end up causing more pain, and being more deadly, than the undetected cancer ever would have been, she says.

Black agrees with the theory. "I think there definitely is a similar component in lung cancer to what's seen in prostate cancer," he tells WebMD. "Some tumors grow rapidly and are lethal, some grow slowly and don't need to be treated." With more screening, more slow-growing cancers are identified. "While some people may be helped by increased screening, in the group overall there was no benefit. In fact, more people were harmed than helped."

Not only will this information help guide future research, it is an important lesson for both doctors and patients. "In the real world, you almost never identify an individual who has been overdiagnosed," says Black. You only appreciate the harm, he says, with the findings of a large study.

While Black does not think that lung-cancer screening should be eliminated outside of clinical trials, he does suggest that doctors "disclose the possibility of being diagnosed with something that [isn't fatal] -- especially if the patient is a smoker and is likely to die of something else before they die of the cancer."

Today on WebMD

Broken cigarette
Do you know the myths from the facts?
man with a doctor
Our health check will steer you in the right direction.
sauteed cherry tomatoes
Fight cancer one plate at a time.
Lung cancer xray
See it in pictures, plus read the facts.
15 Cancer Symptoms Men Ignore
Lung Cancer Risks Myths and Facts
cancer fighting foods
Improving Lung Cancer Survival Targeted Therapy
Lung Cancer Surprising Differences Between Sexes
Pets Improve Your Health
Vitamin D
Lung Cancer Surgery Options