CT scan for lung cancer screening dramatically reduces death rate

ct scan for lung cancer screening

In a recent study, smokers screened for lung cancer with a CT scan had a 20 percent higher survival rate than smokers screened with a chest x-ray. Image; CC brainsik/Flickr

Lung cancer kills more Americans than any other cancer combined. Medical experts say the best way to avoid lung cancer is to either never smoke cigarettes or stop smoking them. However, for people at risk for lung cancer, getting an expensive CT scan instead of a cheap chest x-ray has been found to dramatically increase the survival rate.

CT scans reduce lung cancer deaths 20 percent

A lung cancer study by the National Cancer Institute found that screening smokers and former smokers with a CT scan once a year reduced deaths from the disease by 20 percent. The study tracked more than 53,000 current or ex-smokers middle-aged and older who smoked at least a pack a day for 30 years. Those that had an annual procedure called a “low-dose helical computed tomography (CT) were compared with those who had the traditional chest x-ray. The difference in mortality was so profound, the NCI ended the study early to inform the public and the people being studied of its findings.

Obstacles to CT scans for lung cancer screening

In reality, using CT scans for lung cancer screening must overcome obstacles not considered in the study environment. A primary consideration is the cost of a CT scan for lung cancer screening, which is not currently covered by Medicare and most health insurance companies. According to newchoicehealth.com, the national average price of a chest CT scan is $1,800. The average cost of a standard chest x-ray for lung cancer screening is $370, but the procedure is covered by most plans. Radiation is also a concern. A low-dose CT scan subjects a patient to about 15 times more radiation than a chest x-ray. Plus, the high detail of a CT scan picks up suspicious anomalies that turn out not to be tumors.

A lung cancer death prevented by CT scan screening

About 80 million people smoke in the U.S. Currently, 85 percent of patients with lung cancer die because it’s diagnosed too late. CBS News reports that 67-year-old Steffani Torrighelli understood she was a high risk for lung cancer after 50 years of smoking. Two years ago she enrolled in the study. At her first annual CT scan for lung cancer screening, an early stage tumor was detected before any lung cancer symptoms emerged. The tumor was surgically removed and two years later Torrighelli is cancer free and committed to an annual CT scan for lung cancer screening.


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