Don t rush to have a lung cancer CT scan just yet

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Tara Parker-Pope writes in The New York Times that a study showing CT scans can reduce lung cancer deaths in heavy smokers is already being used in advertisements for a screening center in Atlanta — advertisements seemingly aimed at a broad group, including women who had never smoked.

The article quotes Dr. Peter B. Bach, a pulmonologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, as saying just because it makes sense to screen high-risk smokers, other groups might not receive the same benefit.

“The aggregate harms to all the people’s lives who are not saved have to be taken into account,” Dr. Bach said. “Even in these highly controlled settings, about 1 percent of the people had surgery … for something they thought was cancer and it wasn’t.”

Dr. Ross agrees. “In any CT lung screening, you’re going to find false positives, or ‘incidentalomas’ — X-ray abnormalities that mimic growths but aren’t. They don’t mean much but are scary looking.” Those patients will be subject to unnecessary anxiety, lung biopsies and sometimes surgery, Dr. Ross says.

Scientists are still analyzing the data and are expected to come out in a few months with recommendations about who should get screenings and who shouldn’t.