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CT lung cancer screening may save 12,000 lives a year

by Nancy Ryerson, Staff Writer | February 26, 2013
(Courtesy RSNA)
Lung cancer screening with low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) has the potential to save the lives of more than 12,000 current or former smokers, according to a new analysis from the journal CANCER.

The trial, conducted between 2002 and 2009, found that compared with chest X-ray, LDCT screening reduced lung cancer deaths by 20 percent among current and former smokers aged 55 to 74 years who had smoked a pack a day for 30 years, or two packs a day for 15 years.

Tobacco causes approximately 90 percent of lung cancers in men and 80 percent of lung cancers in women, according to the National Cancer Institute. Of the 43 million Americans who are smokers, more than half will die of smoking-related causes if they continue to smoke. There are around 443,000 cigarette smoking related deaths each year.

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Researchers hope an increased use of LDCT will help cut down on those numbers, and since the findings were released, several health care organizations including the American Lung Association have recommended LDCT screening for lung cancer.

Earlier this year, the American Cancer Society, recommended that high-risk patients should be screened with low-dose CT only if they are a former or current smoker between the ages of 55 and 74 with a 30-pack-year history — meaning one pack a day for 30 years or the number of packs of cigarettes smoked per day by the number of years the person has smoked.

But some experts caution that LDCT may not be the best choice for every patient.

"The high rate of false positive tests [from LDCT screening], and the related workup costs, and cost of treating findings that would not benefit patients give pause, and thus it is clear why a decision has not yet been taken in this direction," said Larry Kessler of the University of Washington School of Public Health in Seattle, in an accompanying editorial. He said a full cost-benefit evaluation of the screenings should be completed before a new national policy for lung cancer screenings is developed.

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