Special Screening for Lung Cancer Seems Worthwhile
July 9, 2001 -- A tool for screening the lungs of people who smoke or used to smoke appears to be a useful way of picking up lung cancer in its early stages. The tool is called a computed tomography, or CT, scan, which helps doctors look inside the lungs, a little bit like an X-ray. Hopefully, these early diagnoses will lead to better survival rates for those afflicted with the disease.
"Lung is the deadliest cancer, killing more men and women than the [other] top three combined," study author Claudia I. Henschke, MD, PhD, tells WebMD. She is a professor of radiology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University and division chief of chest imaging at the New York Presbyterian Hospital, both in New York City
"This continues the landmark research ... showing that there's great promise for lung cancer screening," says expert Arnold J. Rotter, MD. The best analogy is our experience with mammography [in which] ... it's proper to find two to four cancers per thousand screens. Here, they found seven out of 1,100." Rotter is a diagnostic radiologist and director of CT scanning at City of Hope Medical Center in Duarte, Calif. He was not involved in the research.
"Based on our results," says Henschke, "it seems that CT screening is highly effective and cost-effective for smokers and former smokers aged 60 and over. You can extrapolate and say that [it would probably also be helpful] to screen people of lower ages."
In fact, at her institution, they screen anyone starting at age 40 who has smoked for 20 years or more.
"For smokers, they should stop smoking, but clearly a lot of them are not going to do that," Rotter tells WebMD. "So I think lung cancer screening [with CT] is the way to go ... because there is no effective treatment for lung cancer in anything but the earliest stages. This and all the other studies show that [CT scans] pick up stage I [lung cancers] in about 80% of the patients. For patients to get lung cancer screening, it's probably best to do it in the context of a study to be on top of the latest understandings of this."