CT Scans Reduce Lung Cancer Deaths Among Smokers by Over 20%.

5 mm lung nodule that couldn't be seen on a chest X-ray.  Proved to be cancer.

One of our greatest fears is the increased risk of lung cancer. According to the Center for Disease Control, people who smoke are 10 to 20 times more likely to develop lung cancer or die from lung cancer than people who do not smoke. The longer a person smokes and the more cigarettes smoked each day, the more that risk increases. Let us put this in perspective: in the United States, about 90% of lung cancer deaths in men and almost 80% of lung cancer deaths in women are caused by smoking. This year 157,000 people are expected to die from lung cancer which is more than the deaths from colorectal, breast, pancreatic, and prostate cancers combined. As with all cancers, early detection is key to survival. While traditional chest X-ray screening has not been proven effective at reducing the overall death rate, new research suggests more modern CT scans may be far more effective. There has been a recent study called the National Lung Screening Trial conducted by the National Cancer Institute which has shown some exciting results. This study has shown annual CT scans of current and former heavy smokers reduced the death from lung cancer by 20.3%!

Q) What are the details of the experiment?
A) 53,500 men and women ages 55 to 74 years old who are heavy smokers (one pack a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years) were enrolled. Ex-smokers who had quit within the previous 15 years were also included in the experiment. The subjects were either given yearly chest X-rays or chest CTs for two years. It was found that due to early detection and treatment for every 300 people who were screened by CT scans, one person lived who otherwise would have died during the study. It has been suggested that if the study had continued for 10 years, as many as 80% of lung cancer deaths could have been averted. An additional benefit was discovered. It was found that deaths due to all causes declined by 7% among participants who received the CT scans. This suggest that the CT scan helped detect other life-threatening diseases besides lung cancer, such as cardiovascular disease.

Q) How much radiation does one receive from a screening CT scan?
A) A low dose CT chest scan has approximately the same radiation dose as a mammogram. A yearly CT scan in an older population has a negligible risk of contracting and dying from radiation induced cancer. The benefits of screening this high risk population certainly outweigh the risks of modest radiation exposure.

Q) What is the next step?
A) A The results of the study are still being analyzed to determine who should be screened and how frequently. I predict we are still months away before official guidelines are issued. I would be remiss not to say the single best way to prevent lung cancer deaths is to never start smoking, and if already smoking, to quit permanently.