The large-scale government study shows that screening heavy smokers with a s”spiral” CT scan can significantly reduce the number of lung-cancer deaths. Researchers say “spiral” CT scans for smokers and former smokers could reduce their risk of dying from lung cancer by 20% and possibly save thousands of lives.
A spiral CT scan (computed axial tomography) is a new specialized CT scan method that involves continuous movement of the patient through the scanner with the power to scan faster and with increased definition of internal structures.
The results were so dramatic that the National Cancer Institute, which sponsored the study, stopped the National Lung Screening Trial early so that the public and the study participants could be alerted.
In addition to cutting lung cancer deaths, the screenings also reduced deaths from any cause by 7%, according to the National Cancer Institute, which funded the eight-year, $250 million study of 53,000 people older than 55.
For the study, trial participants smoked at least a pack a day for 30 years and had no symptoms or history of lung cancer. They were screened once a year for three years and followed for an additional five years.
The effectiveness of CT scanning for lung cancer has been argued for years. A key concern: the test picks up lung abnormalities that are not cancer. These are common in heavy smokers and can result in costly, anxiety-producing tests.
There are approximately 80 million people in the U.S. who are current or former smokers.
Lung cancer affects more than 196,000 Americans annually and kills more than 159,000, accounting for approximately one-third of all cancer deaths. It is most often diagnosed at advanced stages, and the average five-year survival rate is just 15%.