It is estimated about 158,000 Americans will die from lung cancer this year alone. Another 224,000 people will be diagnosed with this disease. Responsible for about one in four of all cancer deaths, this form of the disease is considered the leading cause of cancer death for both men and women.
Like many types of cancer, lung cancer can sometimes be successfully treated if caught in its earliest phases. At present, however, about 75 percent of patients are diagnosed at a point when the disease is considered incurable. The overall five-year survival rate is only about 16 percent. When cancer is caught at stage 1, patients do have about a 60 percent chance of surviving five years after surgery. That statistic points to a growing need for better early screening tools.
Enter low-radiation dose CT scans. This tool was widely tested during an early 2000s trial that showed extremely promising results. In fact, the National Lung Cancer Screening Trial showed that routine CT scans performed on those at the highest risk for the disease could lower risk of death from lung cancer by about 20 percent.
At present, guidelines for these scans set use for people age 55 to 80 who have smoked at least 30 pack years. Former smokers may also benefit from this type of screening, as may those who didn’t smoke quite as long before quitting. While still not widely offered to everyone at risk for lung cancer, CT scans can open the door for early detection.
People who are at risk for lung cancer are urged to speak with their healthcare providers. The first step in lowering risk for the disease is to quit smoking. Doctors may also be able to help on this front by offering smoking cessation tools. For those at highest risk, routine CT scans may open the door for early detection and lifesaving treatment.