Lung Cancer Early Detection Key
New study finds screening methods have huge impact on lung cancer deaths.
Lung cancer, the deadliest of all cancers, is often found too late, after it's spread to other parts of the body.
Now doctors have proven early screening tools can help reduce lung cancer mortality.
"This is a ray of hope in a very bleak disease," says Dr. Reginald Munden of Houston's MD Anderson Cancer Center.
The study compared long term, heavy smokers who underwent Helical CT Scans or chest C-rays as part of cancer screenings.
Patients who had CT Scans had a 20% lower mortality rate than those who had chest X-rays.
While it appears ct scans offer a significant advantage, they also come with risks.
"One kind of risk is from the radiation itself," says the National Cancer Institute's Dr. Douglas Lowy. "Whether this would lead to an increased risk of cancer really remains to be determined but it is a concern."
CT Scans also have a history of false positives, leading some patients to undergo additional testing, unecessary surgery and emotional upheaval.
"If someone thinks they have lung cancer and then we find out a month later that they don't, those are significant impacts," says Dr. Reginald Munden.
Even so, experts say it appears long-time heavy smokers may benefit.
"For the people who participated in the trial the benefits of having helical CT scanning clearly outweighed the risks," says Dr. Lowy.
What screening tools do not do is prevent lung cancer in the first place.
The main way to do that is to stop smoking or never start.
While this study is promising doctors say it's too soon to recommend ct screening for the general population.
They say much more analysis of the risks and benefits is needed.
The study also linked the Helical CT Scans with a 7-percent reduction in deaths from any cause.
Doctors suspect it's because the scans may have picked up undiagnosed cardiovascular problems or other cancers.