THURSDAY, Nov. 4 (HealthDay News) -- Annual screening for lung cancer with low-dose CT scans cut mortality rates in older, current or former heavy smokers by 20 percent, a major U.S. government study finds.
Given the large numbers of Americans who fall ill from lung cancer -- the nation's leading cancer killer -- a 20 percent drop in deaths could be significant, experts noted.
And, unexpectedly, annual CT screening also cut deaths from any cause by 7 percent, according to the $250 million National Lung Screening Trial (NLST), sponsored by the U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI).
That benefit has yet to be explained, NCI Director Dr. Harold Varmus said during a news conference Thursday.
The results, which were announced at the news conference and published in the Nov. 4 issue of Radiology, were significant enough to trigger an early halt to the trial once the scans' benefits became clear.
"Lung cancer is a major cause of death from cancer in the U.S. and in the world . . . Over 85 percent of those victims are current or former smokers," Varmus said Thursday. "These findings will be an important factor in subsequent efforts to protect tens of millions of current and former smokers in this country from the lethality of lung cancer."
The researchers are assuming that the reason for the benefit lies in the scan's ability to detect tumors earlier, when they are smaller and more treatable.
However, Dr. Michael Unger, director of the Pulmonary Cancer Detection and Prevention Program at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, cautioned that "researchers will have to pore over the paper and look at it for validity" before firm conclusions can be drawn.
And Varmus stressed that no concrete recommendations are being made until all the data has been published.
Lung cancer has the highest mortality rate of any cancer in the United States. Acco
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