Low-dose CT scans endorsed for lung cancer screening

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New recommendations from the American Cancer Society say that older current or former heavy smokers may want to talk to their physician about getting a yearly low-dose CT scan (also called spiral CT scans) of the chest to help detect lung cancer.

Specifically, the guidelines are for those aged 55 to 74 who smoked on average one pack of cigarettes per day for 30 years or more, who either still smoke or who had quit within the past 15 years. The new recommendation, published online in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, follows a major U.S. National Cancer Institute study, published in 2010 in Radiology, which found that annual CT screening for lung cancer for older current or former smokers cut their death rate by 20 percent.

The guideline does stress however, that screening should be done at a facility experienced in lung cancer screening, and clinicians need to have a detailed conversation with patients about the risks, benefits, and limitations of screening, making them aware of the risk of false-positives and the possible need for invasive testing.

We're placing a strong impetus on the importance of individuals having conversations with their doctors, Robert Smith, PhD, director of cancer screening at the ACS and professor of epidemiology at Emory University, told MedPage Today.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force still needs to recommend approval for this guideline.

It makes sense from a pathogenesis point of view that the CT scans will find many lesions in long-term smokers, says ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross, some of which will be cancer. And although not all lung cancers will become lethal, cutting death rate of current or former smokers by 20 percent is very significant. With the data we have showing such significant benefits, I would be concerned if the USPSTF did not recommend approval of this guideline.