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Jul 13, 2011

New Screening Reduces Lung Cancer Mortality

New CT screening improves early lung cancer detection, reducing risk for lung cancer mortality by 20%.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of death among cancers in men and women the United States, accounting for more than 150,000 deaths each year. It is an extremely aggressive cancer that can go undetected in early stages, making it difficult to treat in more advanced stages. Fortunately, new screenings have become available that can detect lung cancer earlier on, helping to drastically reduce lung cancer mortality.

A study known as The National Lung Screening Trial evaluated a screening known as low-dose helical computed tomography (CT) in lung cancer detection, the results of which were published this past June in The New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers recruited 53,545 participants at high risk for lung cancer between 2002 and 2004 for this study, randomly assigning half to periodic CT screenings and to an older type of periodic screening, known as the single-view posteroanterior chest radiography. Although high rates of false positive results were found using both types of screening, the CT detected nearly four times more positive results for lung cancer. As a result, early detection with CT screenings helped reduce risk for lung cancer mortality by 20% in comparison with chest radiography. The CT screening also reduced all-cause mortality rates by 6.7%.

Based on study findings, CT may improve early detection of lung cancer and help reduce associated mortality rates. It is important to note that CT invokes a few concerns by healthcare providers, such as the high rate of false positive results, over-detection of cancers and possible long-term radiation effects. However, with additional research, the harms and benefits associated with CT and other lung cancer screenings can become better understood, helping to improve outcomes for lung cancer patients. 

Questions for You to Consider

  • What causes lung cancer?

  • Smoking is the highest cause of lung cancer and is also one of the most powerful risk factors for heart disease. Therefore, lung cancer most commonly affects smokers and those exposed to secondhand smoke over time. However, lung cancer can develop in patients who have never had prolonged exposure to smoke, the cause of which remains unknown. 

  • Should I be screened for lung cancer?

  • Patients considered high-risk for lung cancer should be screened. Those at high risk are typically older than 55, smoke at least 30 packs per year and are current smokers or former smokers who have quit within the last 15 years.  If you are a current or former smoker who fits these criteria, talk with your healthcare provider to determine if a screening is right for you.