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Many Lung Cancer Tumors May Prove Harmless

Research suggests CT scan screening might lead to needless worry, treatment in these cases

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"It could be that heavy smokers die of lots of other things before the cancer can kill them," Edelman said.

Patz and Dr. Otis Brawley, the American Cancer Society's chief medical officer, said the results highlight the need for future research to uncover genetic markers that will allow doctors to better sort aggressive cancers from cancers that might not need to be treated.

Brawley added, however, that the presence of over-diagnosis does not change the fact that CT screening can save thousands of lives a year.

Calling the original trial "one of the greatest screening studies ever done," Brawley said the clinical trial had successfully detected two types of lung cancers -- the 80 percent that could not be cured and the 20 percent that could be successfully treated.

"Now we're realizing there's a third kind of cancer -- the kind that doesn't need to be cured but can be cured," Brawley said. "We cure some people who don't need to be cured, but the study clearly shows by treating everyone we cure people who need to be cured."

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