In 2013, U.S. health professionals recommended annual lung cancer screenings for adults aged between 55 to 80 who had a 30 pack-year smoking history and currently smoke, or have quit within the past 15 years.
This recommendation was based on a study conducted in 2011 called The National Lung Screening Trial (NLST). The NLST found that screening could prevent cancer deaths in high-risk people.
Now, a new study just published in JAMA Internal Medicine finds that implementing such a lung cancer-screening program may be challenging, complex, and even unreliable in offering insights about whether someone actually has cancer or not.
The new study, which was undertaken by the Veterans Administration (VA), found that the rate of false positives was more than double that which was found in the NLST. Of the 2,106 patients screened, about 60 percent had nodules, but only about 2 percent required further evaluation, and just 1.5 percent actually had lung cancer.
Dr Leena Ghandi of NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center also said that CT scans are prone to picking up all kinds of things that are not cancer, especially on a smoker or former smoker. CT scans pick up benign nodules and inflammation, and when a doctor sees them, it sparks false positives that could lead to more invasive procedures like biopsies, and not to mention a whole lot of anxiety.
Finally, another sticking point is that lung cancer screening requires a sophisticated screening program that’s backed by a lung cancer team—something not found in many areas, says Dr Gandhi. The VA study was only done in certain parts of the country where those programs were in place, she adds.
So, should you get screened? It turns out that’s a more difficult question than it seems.
The best strategy is to talk with your doctor about risk factors. If you’re a smoker and experiencing symptoms like a chronic cough, and/or you have a history of lung cancer in your immediate family, it’s likely that screenings will be used as a diagnostic tool. (Reduce your risk by stop smoking now.)
Read the full story from Men’sHealth here.
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