Preventing 12,000 Cancer Deaths a Year

Lung cancer deaths could be avoided with low dose CT scan screening

(RxWiki News) The number of Americans who smoke has fallen dramatically over the last several decades. Despite this progress, an estimated 43 million still light up. But increased screening could save thousands of lives.

The National Lung Screening Trial (NLST), published in 2010, found that low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) could reduce lung cancer deaths by about 20 percent.

A new study went a step further and uncovered that if all eligible current and former smokers were screened, just over 12,000 lives could be saved every year.

According to study researchers, nearly nine million Americans currently meet the NLST screening criteria. They are between the ages of 55 and 74 and have smoked a pack of cigarettes for 30 years (or two packs a day for 15 years), or they have not smoked (quit) for less than 15 years.

"If you’ve been a heavy smoker, talk to your doctor about screening for lung cancer."

This study was conducted by American Cancer Society researchers led by Jiemin Ma, PhD, MHS, in the ACS Surveillance Research Program. The team used data from several sources - the NLST conducted between 2002 and 2009, the 2010 US Census and the 2010 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), among other data - to compile the number of people eligible for screening.

Researchers determined that in 2010, some 8.6 million Americans were eligible for LDCT screening for lung cancer. This data was then combined with information on lung cancer mortality rates to estimate that if all eligible individuals were screened, about 12,250 lives could be saved.

Co-author, Ahmedin Jemal, PhD, said in a statement,"Our findings provide a better understanding of the national-level impact of LDCT screening, which has the potential to save thousands of lives per year.”

Looking at the results another way, 702 LDCT screens would need to be performed to save one life.

Larry Kessler, ScD, wrote in an accompanying editorial that this study’s findings are important, but he isn’t sure whether the results warrant a new national policy.

"The high rate of false positive tests [from LDCT screening], and the related workup costs, and cost of treating findings that would not benefit patients give pause, and thus it is clear why a decision has not been yet taken in this direction," Dr. Kessler wrote in the editorial.

False positives are results that indicate the presence of cancer which further testing finds does not exist.

Dr. Kessler urged conducting a complete cost-benefit analysis of the NLST, while continuing to emphasize smoking cessation efforts.

The authors agreed, writing, “Further studies are needed to estimate the number of avertable lung cancer deaths and the cost-effectiveness of LDCT screening under different scenarios of risk, various screening frequencies, and various screening uptake rates."

According to the International Early Lung Cancer Action Program, low-dose CT scan screens cost about $300. Some facilities that are involved in lung cancer research may offer free scans.

Some 228,000 Americans will be newly diagnosed with lung cancer this year, and the disease will take the lives of almost 164,000 people.

Findings of this study were published February 25 in CANCER, the journal of the American Cancer Society. This work was supported by the Intramural Research Department of the American Cancer Society. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

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Review Date: 
February 23, 2013