Diagnosing Early Lung Cancer
(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Doctors know lung cancer can be diagnosed in earlier stages by screening people at high risk for the disease using computed tomography scans.
But the problem is the test finds a lot of false positives -- nodules that turn out not to be cancerous. This leads to unnecessary biopsies, worry for patients, and expense for the health care system.
Now, Spanish researchers believe they may have found a new way to use CT scans to screen for early lung cancer while minimizing unnecessary biopsies to test nodules that end up being non-cancerous. They combined CT scans with another type of test known as positron emission tomography, or PET, to zero in on cases most likely to be cancer.
The research involved 911 people considered at high risk for lung cancer due to their smoking histories. Patients received an initial CT scan, and those with noncalcified nodules of five millimeters or greater received a follow-up CT scan. Those with nodules that were 10 millimeters or larger or with nodules that were growing also had the PET test.
Overall, investigators detected lung cancer in 14 patients. Thirteen of the patients were diagnosed with stage 1 non-small cell lung cancer and underwent surgery. One patient was diagnosed with small-cell lung cancer. The PET test proved helpful in determining the correct diagnosis in 19 out of 25 indeterminate nodules. Using the protocol, no preoperative surgical biopsies were necessary to diagnose the disease.
The authors note up to 80 percent of lung cancer patients diagnosed in the early stages of the disease may be cured. But most patients arenâ€™t diagnosed until itâ€™s too late for treatment, resulting in a dismal 15-percent five-year survival rate overall. "This strategy may improve chances for cure because epidemiologic data strongly suggest that the prognosis of lung cancer is significantly better when diagnosed in early stages," they write.
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SOURCE: American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 2005;171:1378-1383