New Study Pushes Lung Cancer Screening for Smokers

Early detection of cancerous lung tumors has a significant effect on a patient’s survival rate, according to a controversial new study. As a result, the study’s authors recommend a robust, annual CT screening process for smokers, claiming that early detection (and timely removal) of tumors gives patients a 10-year survival rate of 92 percent. The usual survival rate for people diagnosed with stage I lung cancer is about 70 percent.

The study was published in today’s issue of the New England Journal of Medicine and was supported by two dozen groups. Researchers screened 31,567 asymptomatic but at-risk patients between 1993 and 2005. Yet, many critics have questioned the results for a variety of reasons. For one, there was no control group with which to compare the results. For another, early screening, by definition, will lead to earlier detection and diagnosis, thereby extending the post-diagnosis survival time–even if a patient’s eventual death was not delayed or even prevented by the screening.

Still, the study’s authors contend that waiting for traditional screening methods such as chest X-rays to be effective may be a mistake. If an abnormality is initially discovered in a chest X-ray, the chances for survival are quite slim because the disease is usually in its advanced stages by the time it can be detected in an X-ray. CAT scans, on the other hand, have the ability to detect the disease at much earlier stages, when the tumors are much smaller.

“Our view is that we have proved conclusively that screening results in saving lives,” said Dr. David Yankelevitz of Weill Cornell Medical College in New York.

A larger study involving more than 50,000 high-risk patients, called the National Lung Screening Trial, is currently being conducted, although results aren’t expected until 2009 or 2010. However, this study will utilize a comparison group of patients who will be given chest X-rays.

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