Government Begins Research To Screen for Lung Cancer
WASHINGTON -- Government medical researchers have launched a major study of current and former smokers, hoping to identify an effective way to screen people for early signs of lung cancer.
Participants will be randomly selected to undergo one of two methods of screening -- chest X-ray or spiral computerized tomography -- and receive follow-up testing for three years. If either detection method produces a significant reduction in lung-cancer deaths, it could become a standard of care for adults in the U.S.
The National Cancer Institute says lung cancer will claim about 155,000 lives this year. Respiratory cancers, including lung cancer, are the third leading cause of death by disease in the U.S., behind heart disease and strokes.
"An estimated 90 million current and former smokers in the U.S. are at high risk for lung cancer, and death rates for this disease, unlike other cancers have not declined," said John Gohagan, of the NCI's division of cancer prevention, which will oversee the $200 million screening project.
Currently, there is no lung-cancer screening test that has been proven to save lives. "There really hasn't been any major improvement in the early diagnosis and even the treatment of lung cancer in half a century," said John R. Seffrin, chief executive of the American Cancer Society. When lung cancer is detected, it usually has spread outside the lungs in 15% to 30% of cases.
NCI is seeking to enroll 50,000 current or former smokers aged 55 to 74 to undergo screening at one of 30 sites around the country. The project will also study participants' smoking behavior, anxiety and lung-cancer screening costs.
Individuals will receive a standard chest X-ray or more sophisticated spiral CT to detect tumors. Spiral CT, a computer-manipulated quick scan of the chest cavity that produces a three-dimensional model of the lungs, can detect much smaller abnormalities than those appearing in chest X-rays, but it has some drawbacks. What it finds is less specific than what a chest X-ray reveals and not always cancerous. It also typically costs four to five times more than chest X-rays.