Lung Cancer Screening in High Risk Patients

For the question of whether lung cancer screening in high risk patients causes more good than harm, check out this article.

I’m pretty convinced the data shows that in a research study high risk population where the scans are read by highly skilled experts closely following the rules, lives are saved by CT screening and the cost is reasonable for each QUALY.

Further, the interpretation of these chest CT screening exams is fairly straightforward for experienced and trained radiologists. That suggests that when CT screening is extended beyond research to broader community practice, results should also be good.

Is Low-cost a Benefit for Lung Cancer Screening?

Is low-cost an added benefit to widespread lung cancer screening? According to this article, from April’s Health Affairs—yes!  The study on this much debated about topic asserts that routine CT lung cancer screening of high-risk individuals would save thousands of lives annually for less than one dollar a month per patient, if implemented throughout the US. According to these figures, the cost of low-dose lung cancer screening could be less than that for both breast cancer screening and colorectal cancer screening.

As we’ve pointed out, lung cancer screening is effective and life saving.  For high- risk patients, those who are multiple pack year smokers for 25 years or more, screening provides significant benefits. For these individuals, low-dose CT screening reduces the number of lung cancer deaths by 20 percent!

Despite this, widespread lung cancer screening has yet to be implemented nationwide, largely due to cost. This study reports interesting and encouraging data about widespread implementation of the procedure, though. However, we must remember that there are also reputable articles which report much higher cost numbers when adjusted for quality-life-years saved. It is necessary to take these studies into account, too.

Looks like the jury may still be out on this one!

CT Lung Screening and Follow-up Protocol

Research published in this month’s American Journal of Roentgenology reported excellent results on a protocol for working up patients with nodules found in CT lung screening. Ever since the National Lung Screening Trial showed a 20% mortality reduction among high-risk patients screened for the disease, criticism has been vocalized due to the potentially large number of false-positive results following diagnostic imaging investigations. Though the possibility of finding cancer outweighs the risk of false positives, the researchers argued that false-positive results could potentially increase the risks and costs of screening, diminishing the benefit of early cancer detection.

This study, which required participants without a history of cancer to have smoked a minimum of 10 pack-years, concluded with positive results. According to the research, the algorithm produced low false-positive rates, and could make the establishment of large-scale CT screening programs more feasible.

Follow-up CT protocols in lung cancer screening – once a finding is discovered and needs to be evaluated over time or even just routinely on a schedule – is one area ripe for ultra low-dose CT technique. With this technique, we really can see doses reduced by 40 – 80% among these applications! Accepting higher noise in images, very low-dose kVp (in the 80-100 range), and aggressive application of iterative reconstruction techniques can produce diagnostic CT results at breathtakingly low doses.

Lung CT Screening a Top Cancer Advancement of 2011!

As the war on cancer continues, a group of U.S. oncologists picked its “Top Five” most essential advances in cancer care, as reported by HealthDay news. I’m pleased to announce that CT-based lung cancer screening is listed as one of the major advances for 2011.

The report, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, placed only targeted drug therapy above CT-based lung cancer screening. Both advancements will be major game changers for cancer care. The report confirms that the U.S. National Cancer Institute found that screening smokers and former smokers with a CT chest scan was “dramatically better than the chest X-ray.”

There now is no question about this! In high risk heavy smoker populations, low dose CT- lung cancer screening saves lives… and quite a few. The challenge now is getting our healthcare delivery systems to incorporate this approach into routine preventative medical practices….but only for high risk individuals. We need to make these scans easy to obtain, fast to perform, very low in radiation, covered in health plans, and inexpensive.

The good news is that all of these things are possible. Turning CT-lung cancer screening into a regular practice for in-need individuals is very do-able!