The importance of lung cancer screening

Patients undergo screening to detect a disease when there are no symptoms or history of that disease. Doctors recommend a screening test to find a disease early, when treatment can be most effective. 

Each year in the U.S., 225,000 new lung cancer cases are diagnosed and more than 165,000 patients, including 80,000 women, die. Lung cancer kills more people than breast or prostate cancers. 

About 70 percent of patients who are diagnosed each year already are in advanced stages and treatment is therefore palliative (to extend life only as there is no cure).  

The United States Preventive Services Taskforce recommends screening of lung cancer annually in people with a history of excessive smoking (30 years smoking one pack per day), who smoke now or have abandoned the habit in the last 15 years, and who are between 55 and 80 years of age. 

CT screening reduces 20 percent of deaths of smokers and quitters compared with screening by chest X-ray, according to a U.S. study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2011. This clinical trial, launched in 2002 at the national level, examined 53,454 men and women aged between 55 and 74 years, who consumed at least 30 packs of cigarettes a year. 

The objective of the study was to compare the difference in the mortality rate among those undergoing a tomography several times a year and those subjected to a conventional chest X-ray. The results confirm that screening scans can decrease the number of deaths caused by lung cancer. 

Screening is not for everybody because it exposes the person to unnecessary radiation therapy if the person is not in the “high risk group.” 

As this information is relatively recent, many people do not know about lung cancer screening and many insurance companies still do not cover it. In South Florida, there are several institutions, including the Memorial Cancer Institute, that offer lung cancer screening for the reduced price of $99 to help the community. 

The best way to reduce your risk of lung cancer is to avoid smoking or secondhand smoke. CT screening tests should not be used as a substitute for smoking cessation.  

Also, the World Health Organization has warned consumers about so-called “electronic cigarettes,” stating that these do not constitute an effective therapy of replacement. Electronic cigarettes look similar to conventional cigarettes, with or without nicotine, with aromas such as vanilla, mint and tobacco. In 2009, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration analyzed several brands of these electronic cigarettes and warned of the presence of carcinogenic and toxic substances. 

Dr. Luis E. Raez is director of the Memorial Cancer Institute at the Memorial Health Care System and clinical associate professor of medicine at the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, Florida International University. He is one of the speakers at this week’s Conquering Cancer event. 

Dr. Raez
Dr. Raez