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Early Detection for Lung Cancer Saves Lives

Vanderbilt Trial Aims At What's Next: Who Will Benefit Most From Screening?

June 30, 2011 | Cynthia Floyd Manley

Publication this week of results of the National Lung Screening Trial, which found screening with a type of low-dose CT scan could reduce death from lung cancer by as much as 20 percent, was met with excitement and hope from lung cancer survivors, advocates, caregivers, researchers and doctors.


The study, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, is the first scientific evidence of that early detection of lung cancer can save lives, said lung cancer experts at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center.

Quickly, however, thoughts turned to “what’s next?” Publication of the results by the New England Journal of Medicine set the stage for additional examination and debate about how best to apply the findings to screening recommendations for the general public. Questions remain, including:

  • Would a different group of people see the same benefit? The study was conducted among current and former smokers ages 55-74 who have smoked at least one pack a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years.
  • How often should screening be done and for how long?
  • What would the costs be to screen current and former smokers, of whom there is estimated to be 94 million in the United States
  • The vast majority of cases where a suspicious nodule was detected turned out to be “false positives,” that is not cancer after all. Can we reduce that number by more precisely identifying those who are at the highest risk?

Pierre Massion, M.D., discusses the study and his research at Vanderbilt to take the next step in saving lives through early detection and treatment of lung cancer:

Massion emphasized that even with new information that lung cancer deaths can be reduced through low-dose CT screening of high risk patients, it is important that individuals not smoke or if they do smoke, quit. While risk of lung cancer never returns to zero after quitting smoking, quitting smoking can reduce your overall risk not only of lung cancer but other cancers such as those of the bladder and head and neck as well as heart disease, stroke and obstructive pulmonary disease. About a fourth of the patients who underwent CT screening in the study died not of lung cancer but of cardiovascular disease.

For help in smoking cessation, call the Tennessee QUIT Line at 1 (800) QUIT-NOW.