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For Many, Risks of Lung Biopsy May Outweigh Benefits: Study
Date:8/2/2011

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Aug. 1 (HealthDay News) -- For many patients, biopsies of lung nodules found during CT scans may be unnecessary and even dangerous, a new study finds.

"As we have been doing more CT scans, we are finding more of these nodules or spots in the lungs, which have unclear clinical significance," said lead researcher Dr. Renda Soylemez Wiener, an assistant professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine.

Nodules are spotted in as many as 25 percent of patients undergoing a chest CT scan, the study said. "When nodules show up, doctors and patients need to decide whether to biopsy that spot in the lung," she said. "There are risks to that [surgical] procedure, which may be more common than most people realize."

Lung collapse and bleeding are complications of the procedure, which involves removing and examining a sample of tissue.

Wiener, noting that 98 percent of the nodules turn out to be benign, said physicians perform too many unnecessary lung biopsies.

Too many CT scans are also done, Wiener said. "We find information we don't know what to do with. Like we find a spot in the lung and have to decide whether or not to expose a patient to the risk of biopsy," she said.

One factor driving lung biopsies is physician fear of being sued for not finding a cancer, Wiener said. Also, a recent U.S. National Cancer Institute report, which found that CT screening reduced lung cancer deaths compared with use of traditional chest X-rays, is expected to boost the use of scans for smokers and others at risk of lung cancer. But doctors need to tell patients about the risks, the study authors said.

"There are situations where it might not be worth it to do a biopsy," Wiener said. These include "people with either very low risk of cancer or people who have such a high risk of cancer that they are probably going to go to surgery no matter what a biopsy
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