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CT Scans Reduce Lung Cancer Deaths, Study Confirms

But questions remain about widespread screening
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WebMD News from HealthDay

By Randy Dotinga

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, May 22 (HealthDay News) -- Physicians weighing the benefits and risks of CT scans for detecting lung cancer now have more information to help with the decision. A new analysis of a 2010 U.S. study finds that low-dose CT scans pick up significantly more lung tumors than chest X-rays do.

People with a long history of smoking are at high risk for lung cancer, the deadliest form of cancer in the United States. But doctors have to consider the potential harm of radiation exposure when ordering screening. The initial 2010 trial suggested that the low-dose CT scans can save lives, but they're not yet routine and insurers typically don't pay for them.

"There's a whole bunch of stuff that has to be worked out," said Dr. Norman Edelman, chief medical officer of the American Lung Association. This includes the prospect of expanding screening to a wider group and relying on radiologists less experienced than those who reviewed the lung scans in the initial study.

Already, some medical centers are offering CT lung scans below cost, at $200 or $300, apparently in the hope that they'll recoup their loss by detecting suspicious nodules in the lungs of patients, he said.

About 158,000 people die from lung cancer in the United States each year, often because it's detected too late for effective treatment. The new analysis of the 2010 study indicated that by identifying malignancies sooner, low-dose CT scans will reduce the death tally.

Who should get screened is a question that must be addressed, said Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer and executive vice president of the American Cancer Society. "Everyone wants to jump toward screening as an answer," Brawley said.

The initial study involved 53,000 current and former heavy smokers, aged 55 to 74, who underwent a CT scan or chest X-ray every year for three years, starting in 2002.

By 2010, the death rate among those who got the CT scans was 20 percent lower than for those who got X-rays.

CT scans revealed potential signs of cancer in 27 percent of those scanned, compared to 9 percent of people who got X-rays, the researchers found. In both groups, about 91 percent had at least one more test.

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