Lung Cancer Screening Tool Hits the Road
As with heart disease, ultra-fast CT scan overstates the risk of lung cancer, Marcus tells WebMD.
Intense CT screening picks up both slow- and fast-growing tumors -- as well as those that are benign, Marcus tells WebMD. "Some tumors are so slow-growing that they don't need to be treated; people will die of other causes before dying of those tumors."
But when something shows up on a scan, something must be done. The first step is surgery to remove the tumor, to correctly determine if it is cancer.
"The surgery is not without risks," Marcus says. "There's actually a fairly high risk of death -- of people dying on the table or from complications."
Cancer treatment also is not innocuous; it has side effects, she says.
Many doctors are taking the wait-and-see approach, Marcus tells WebMD. Wait until symptoms appear before putting people through unnecessary surgery.
Marcus acknowledges that not everyone agrees with that approach.
"Some say that there's no such thing as an unimportant lung cancer lesion, because the fatality rate for lung cancer is so high," she tells WebMD. "But there may be a difference between tumors that cause symptoms and those that don't. Those that cause symptoms seem to be those that need treatment, that are fast-growing. These are caveats that have to be considered. I can't advocate these scans unless I think they can do more benefit than harm.
"My personal opinion is that it's too premature to advocate mass screenings in ... people who are at elevated risk for lung cancer" but have no symptoms of the disease, Marcus says. "We don't know enough yet. If somebody is on the fence, the best thing is talk to their doctor."
The American Lung Association is similarly unsold on the need for mobile CT scanners.
"There's a lot more research that needs to be done to determine whether there truly is an increase in survival from cancer," says Norman Edelman, MD, scientific consultant to the American Lung Association and dean of the school of medicine at State University of New York at Stony Brook. In fact, a multicenter study in New York City is attempting to answer that question, Edelman tells WebMD.