Currently, there are no screening techniques for lung cancer that have proven to effectively reduce rates of mortality. Because of that, the National Cancer Institute sponsored a clinical study, known as the National Lung Screening Trial (NLST), to take a comparative look at the effectiveness of two screening techniques: chest x-rays and low-dose helical CT scans.

The randomized study was done nationally and involved nearly 53,000 people who smoked heavily at the time or had smoked heavily previously. The age group for the study was between 55 and 74, and the study itself began around 2002. Some of the early results of the study were published in November of 2010, and the results show positive signs for the future of helical CT scans as a screening method worthy of widespread utilization.

According to the published results, the study found that there were 20 percent fewer deaths due to lung cancer in participants who were screened with low-dose helical computed tomography (CT scan). As smoking is by far the leading cause of lung and bronchus cancer, every participant was required to have a calculated history of smoking that is very high, could not have a history of lung cancer, and could not show any symptoms of lung cancer at the time of enrollment. Each participant in the study received tri-annual screenings for lung cancer, either using chest x-rays or low-dose helical CT scans.

The results revealed that over the course of the study:

• 354 participants died from lung cancer who had been screened by CT scans
• 442 participants died from lung cancer who had been screened by standard chest x-rays
• 20.3 percent more deaths occurred in those participants screened using chest x-rays

It should be noted that those numbers don’t include all the deaths of participants that occurred during the study. Deaths due to lung cancer only accounted for about 25 percent of all participant deaths, according to the National Cancer Institute. 

In addition, although these results are encouraging, there are distinct disadvantages to screening by low-dose helical CT scans. Some of those are side effects of the radiation from numerous CT scans, diagnostic surgeries and procedures in patients who ultimately do not have lung and bronchus cancer and possible increased risk of kidney or liver disease. The participants’ ethnicities were primarily representative of the demographic groups which make up those who are generally at high risk of developing lung cancer.

However, the results of the NLST are extremely encouraging for the future of lung cancer screening technology. In addition to the results concerning lung cancer deaths, it was also discovered that participant deaths due to any factor, including lung cancer, were 7 percent lower in those screened with low-dose helical CT scans than those tested with standard chest x-rays. Further analysis is said to be needed to better understand what that statistic means moving forward.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with lung cancer and feel it was originally missed by your doctor in Georgia, please request a copy of our free book, I Have Cancer…Should It Have Been Caught Earlier?, or contact an experienced medical malpractice and lung cancer lawyer at the Dover Law Firm at 770-518-1133 to schedule a free consultation.