Should you be asking your doctor about getting an annual CT scan? According to a recent study by the National Cancer Institute and by the American College of Radiology Imaging Network, an annual CT scan of current and former heavy smokers reduced their risk of death from lung cancer by 20 percent.The scan also seemed to reduce the risk of death from other causes as well. The results of the study show that for every three hundred people who underwent screening, one person lived who otherwise would have died.
Previously there was not a screening method that had proved effective at reducing lung cancer deaths. During the 1970’s there were four different randomized controlled trials of chest x-rays which found that while chest x-rays were effective at catching cancer at earlier stages, they had no overall effect on death rates. Because lung cancer has been hard to detect, it has a very high mortality rate – 85% of patients who develop lung cancer die from it.
This study was done with over 53,000 people ages 55 to 74 who were heavy smokers, meaning they had smoked at least one pack a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years. People who had quit smoking within the past 15 years were also included in the study.
This study could have significant impact on how doctors screen for lung cancer although nothing has been put in place now in terms of treatment protocols. In particular this could be significant for older smokers, who have a one in ten chance of developing lung cancer. The United States has forty-six million people who smoke and tens of millions more who are previously smokers, and a widespread screening program could potentially cost billions.