New research indicates that CT scans can be a powerful tool in the detection of lung cancer at its earliest stages in 85 percent of patients. If surgical removal is done immediately after detection, according to the study, 92 percent of patients could survive at least 10 years after diagnosis. The complete study has been published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
“You could prevent 80 percent of deaths,” said Claudia Henschke, MD, a professor of radiology and cardiothoracic surgery at Weill Cornell Medical College, the study’s lead author, the New York Times reports.
The study included 31,000 people from seven countries — some smokers and former smokers. Of the subjects, the CT scans detected 484 lung cancers with 72 being very early stage. The patients were tracked for an average of three years, and most were still living.
Response to the study has been mixed. Some researchers and advocacy groups including the Lung Cancer Alliance have greeted the study with open arms and are encouraged by the findings and believe it should provoke the medical community to reconsider screening practices. However, others are critical of how the study was conducted. Since the study did not include a comparison group of people who did not have scans, they are not sure how the results should be taken, the Times reports.
“Intuitively, it makes sense — if you have a cancer, take it out,” said Stephen Swensen, MD, a professor of radiology at the Mayo Clinic. “It makes sense that if you find a cancer earlier you will save lives,” but he added, “The science hasn’t backed that up yet,” the Times reports.
While many important groups such as the American Cancer Society, the Society of Clinical Oncology, and others support the study, they are not prepared to advocate such screening as a public policy change just yet, the Times reports.
It’s a high-stakes game, however, as every year in the United States, as many as 173,000 people are diagnosed with lung cancer and 160,000 die from it. In a released statement, the American Legacy Foundation said that it believes that a large portion of the 100 million current and former smokers in this country would be screening candidates. The organization also believes that to ensure accuracy of the screenings, monitored centers should be created across the country so that state-of-the-art diagnostic and treatment services are widely available. “The cost of these screenings annually is less expensive than an annual pack-a-day smoking addiction. Moreover, screening costs may decrease as screenings become more widely used,” the group said.