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Lesser Known Lung Diseases Can Strike Smokers, Ex-Smokers
Date:3/9/2011

By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, March 9 (HealthDay News) -- A sizable minority of smokers and former-smokers develop lung conditions that reduce lung capacity, but leave them less likely to have either emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), new research shows.

In fact, the study published in the March 10 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine found that these rarer abnormalities are only visible on sophisticated CT scans, not on the ones typically used to spot COPD and emphysema. The findings suggest that doctors need to look beyond those measurements, which could be giving false reassurance to patients.

"Tobacco usage can cause more problems to the lung than just emphysema or COPD," said Dr. Carl Boethel, an assistant professor of internal medicine at Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, who was not involved with the study. "Sometimes the method we use to diagnose COPD and emphysema, which is spirometry, may not give you the full picture of what is going on in the lungs."

Even though CT scans shouldn't become a routine screening method for smokers and ex-smokers, the authors of the paper are hoping that these findings will spur more research into ways to identify people at risk.

"Our hope is that down the road, we need not perform CT scans on every person but we could identify other noninvasive tests or biomarkers that may predict who has this disease, who is at risk and who will progress with the disease," said study first author Dr. George Washko, a physician in the division of pulmonary and critical care medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

The abnormalities found on the scans in this study indicated interstitial lung disease, the most severe form of which is idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. "This is rapidly fatal and there is no available treatment," said the study's other first author, Dr. Gary M. Hunninghake,
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