Monday, December 16, 2013

Low-dose CT scans find lung cancer before X-rays, save lives

Low-dose computed tomography, commonly known as CT scans, are reducing lung-cancer deaths by finding the cancer early before it spreads to other parts of the body, UK HealthCare reports. Used as a screening tool, the American College of Radiology says CT is "the only test ever shown to reduce mortality in high-risk smokers."

This is good news for Kentucky, which leads the nation in both lung cancer and deaths from it.  It also leads, by some estimates, in smoking, the leading cause of cancer.  An estimated 25 to 28 percent of Kentuckians are smokers, compared to 18 to 19 percent nationally.

Low-dose CT screening for lung cancer is recommended for high-risk patients, defined in a Mayo Clinic article as someone 55 to 79 who's smoked the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes every day for 30 years, or those 50 and older who have smoked a pack a day or more of cigarettes for 20 years or longer and have one additional risk factor for lung cancer.

Chest X-rays, the other screening technique, typically are not done until a person has symptoms because studies have shown that they are not effective in detecting lung cancer early. However, researchers have found that heavy smokers screened with low-dose CT scans can pick up much smaller tumors than chest X-rays and have a "20 percent lower risk of dying from lung cancer than those screened with chest X-rays," UK HealthCare reports.

A recent study found that nearly one in five lung tumors detected on CT scans are probably so slow-growing that they would never cause problems, reports Lindsey Tanner of The Associated Press. These tumors are not false positives, but cancerous tumors without symptoms, which are unlikely to become deadly, according to the research. However, National Lung Cancer Screening Trial results conclude that the benefits from low-dose CT scans significantly outweigh the "comparatively modest rate of over-diagnosis," according to the American College of Radiology. "Overdiagnosis is an expected part of any screening program and does not alter the benefits you get from the screening,"

Dr. Paul Ellenbogen, chair of the American College of Radiology Board of Chancellors, said in the release, "Physicians should certainly discuss the risk and benefits of CT lung-cancer screening with patients – including that of overdiagnosis. However, for high-risk patients, the group in which CT lung cancer screening is proposed, the lifesaving benefit outweighs the risks."

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