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Screening for Lung Cancer Might Benefit Those at Highest Risk
Date:5/21/2012

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

SUNDAY, May 20 (HealthDay News) -- Using low-dose CT scans to screen for lung cancer might save the lives of patients at the greatest risk for the disease, a new analysis suggests.

However, the risks of screening for others aren't clear, the researchers added.

"We have insight into risks, but they are hard to weigh and estimate," said lead researcher Dr. Peter Bach, from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

"It's clear that when you screen you find cancers that otherwise wouldn't appear, and that leads to overtreatment," he said. "It is clear that CTs find lots of things that aren't cancer. About one in five people have something found that will require some sort of follow-up."

There is also an excess radiation risk. In one trial, screening prevented about three deaths per 1,000 people screened, while one in 2,500 might develop cancer from the CT scan, Bach said.

However, in the right population it could theoretically prevent thousands of deaths a year, he explained.

Namely, that population is the heaviest smokers, those who smoke for 30 pack-years or more. A pack-year is the number of cigarettes smoked over time. This means at least a pack a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years.

"For these patients, we recommend that doctors might suggest screening and discuss the risks and benefits," Bach said. "But, no one should be telling people that they must have this test or advertise that it's a lifesaving procedure that will prevent you from dying from lung cancer."

In the end, "there is no substitution for smoking cessation in terms of health benefits," Bach noted.

The report was published online May 20 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

For the study, Bach's team reviewed 21 studies about the benefits and risks of low-dose CT screening for lung cancer.

One of the studies, the
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