Screening former or current smokers with high-tech scans can significantly cut deaths from lung cancer, according to a long-awaited federal study released Thursday.
The study of more than 53,000 middle-aged and elderly people who either once smoked or currently smoke heavily found there were 20 percent fewer deaths among those who underwent annual screening with a scanning procedure known as a low-dose helical computed tomography (CT) compared with those who got standard chest X-rays.
The findings were so striking that the National Cancer Institute, which helped sponsor the study, halted the National Lung Screening Trial early after a panel of experts notified officials about the clear results of an interim analysis.
"Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer mortality in the U.S. and throughout the world, so a validated approach that can reduce lung cancer mortality by even 20 percent has the potential to spare very significant numbers of people from the ravages of this disease," said NCI Director Harold Varmus.
Lung cancer strikes more than 196,000 Americans each year and kills more than 159,000, accounting for nearly one-third of all cancer deaths. Although significant advances have been made in reducing deaths from other leading cancers, such as breast and colon cancer, lung cancer has remain stubbornly resistent. The new finding marks the first good news about the disease in decades. There are an estimated 91.5 million current and former smokers in the United States, all of whom are at increased risk for lung cancer.
"This is the first time that we have seen clear evidence of a significant reduction in lung cancer mortality with a screening test in a randomized controlled trial," said Christine Berg, who led the study for the National Cancer Institute.
Read the full story in The Washington Post.