WEDNESDAY, June 29 (HealthDay News) -- Routinely screening longtime smokers and former heavy smokers for lung cancer using CT scans can cut the death rate by 20 percent compared to those screened by chest X-ray, according to a major U.S. government study.
The National Lung Screening Trial included more than 53,000 current and former heavy smokers aged 55 to 74 who were randomly chosen to undergo either a "low-dose helical CT" scan or a chest X-ray once a year for three years.
Those results, which showed that those who got the CT scans were 20 percent less likely to die than those who received X-rays alone, were initially published in the journal Radiology in November 2010.
The new study, published online July 29 in the New England Journal of Medicine, offers a fuller analysis of the data from the trial, which was funded by the U.S. National Cancer Institute. Detecting lung tumors earlier offers patients the opportunity for earlier treatment.
The data showed that over the course of three years, about 24 percent of the low-dose helical CT screens were positive, while just under 7 percent of the chest X-rays came back positive, meaning there was a suspicious lesion (tissue abnormality).
Helical CT, also called a "spiral" CT scan, provides a more complete picture of the chest than an X-ray, experts said. While an X-ray is a single image in which anatomical structures overlap one another, a spiral CT takes images of multiple layers of the lungs to create a three-dimensional image.
About 81 percent of the CT scan patients needed follow-up imaging to determine if the suspicious lesion was cancer. But only about 2.2 percent needed a biopsy of the lung tissue, while another 3.3 percent needed a broncoscopy, in which a tube is threaded down into the airway.
"We're very happy with that. We think that means that most of these positive examinatio
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