CT Scans Can Cut Lung Cancer Deaths
A large-scale study suggests that annual CT scans of current and former heavy smokers could reduce deaths from lung cancer by 20 percent.
Screening with the high-tech images has proved so successful that researchers stopped the trial six months early. The University of Minnesota played a major role in the National Lung Screening Trial, recruiting, screening, and tracking 6,600 participants.
Total nationwide participation in the study was 53,000. Participants received screening at enrollment and at the end of their first and second years in the trial. They were then followed for up to another five years.
In that period there were 354 deaths from lung cancer among participants in the CT arm of the study and 442 lung cancer deaths among the chest X-ray group.
The study marks the first time researchers have seen clear evidence of a screening method that could reduce deaths from lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States and one that is often diagnosed once it’s too late for treatment.
“The idea is that we can discover the cancer before it becomes inoperable,” says SPH professor Timothy Church, principal investigator.
More analysis needed before screening is recommended
But Church warns against making any blanket recommendations at this point, stressing that more analysis is needed on the harms and benefits of CT screening. That process could result in a change in professional guidelines for lung cancer screening.
“We have to make sure that we’re not doing more harm than good,” Church says. “Once that analysis is done, recommendations can be formulated about who to screen, how often to screen, at what ages to screen, and how long to screen them.”