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CT scans unleash a breakthrough in catching early stage lung cancer

CHICAGO The National Lung Screening Trial (NLST) is the first scientific study that provides clear evidence that CT screening significantly reduces the death rate due to lung cancer. NLST data shows 20 percent fewer lung cancer deaths among trial participants who had the CT scan compared with the chest x-ray. Until now, no screening test for lung cancer has proven effective in detecting tumors at an early, more treatable stage.

Northwestern Memorial Hospital is the only NLST site in Chicago. During the study period, more than 400 individuals enrolled in the trial locally. "We are extremely grateful to the participants in both the chest X-ray and the CT scan arms who volunteered for this lengthy and challenging trial," said Eric M. Hart, MD, a radiologist and the NLST Site Principal Investigator at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. "Their continued involvement is the basis for this ray of hope for other heavy smokers."

The trial was conducted at 33 sites throughout the country and included more than 53,000 current or former "heavy smokers" between the ages of 55 and 74. Each participant was either a former heavy smoker within the last 15 years or a current smoker with at least a 30 pack year history of smoking (calculated by the number of packs per day times the number of years smoking). Between 2002 and 2004, the participants were randomly assigned to receive either a chest x-ray or a CT scan annually for three years. Then, they were monitored for the following five years.

Lung cancer is one of the most common and lethal forms of cancer in the U.S. Lung cancer usually grows silently for years before symptoms arise that lead to diagnosis and treatment. By then, the cancer has typically reached an advanced stage where treatment is difficult and cure rates are low.

"We will continue to promote smoking cessation as the primary strategy for lung cancer prevention," Malcolm DeCamp, MD, chief of division of thoracic surgery at Northwestern Memorial, states. "But now, we have an effective screening technique that we must promote throughout the entire community to detect lung cancer in its earliest stage."


Contact: Todd Medland
Northwestern Memorial Hospital

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