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Early screening for lung cancer dramatically improves survival rates for at-risk patients.

Researchers at Mount Sinai continue to explore how low-dose CT impacts survival of patients subsequently found to have lung cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, there are a variety of risk factors for lung cancer, including smoking, exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke, radon, arsenic, and asbestos.  More difficult to manage is lung cancer risk from air pollution or a family history of lung cancer.  In many cases, a first diagnosis of lung cancer follows symptoms like shortness of breath, persistent cough, chest pain, and fatigue.  Lung cancer is a leading cause of cancer deaths because symptoms often appear when intervention is too late.  Over 50 percent of those diagnosed with lung cancer die within one year of being diagnosed.

The US Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) issued a recommendation in March 2021 concerning screening for lung cancer in individuals between the ages of 50 and 80 who currently smoke, have a 20-pack a year smoking history, or who have quit smoking in the past 15 years.  For individuals in this demographic, the USPSTF recommends a low-dose computed tomography (CT) scan on an annual basis.

Scientists at Mount Sinai initiated the large-scale study known as the International Early Lung Cancer Action Program (I-ELCAP) in 1992.  The study involves multiple research partners and approximately 87,000 participants enrolled from more than 80 institutions.  At the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, researchers from Mount Sinai discussed their findings on screening and survival rates based on 20 years of data.

In tracking survival rates of 1,285 patients who received screening through I-ELCAP, findings included:

  • The survival rate of all participants was 80 percent. 
  • For 139 participants with nonsolid and 155 patients with partly solid lung nodules, the survival rate with screening was 100 percent.
  • For 991 patients ultimately diagnosed with solid nodules, the 20-year survival rate was 73 percent. With patients diagnosed with Stage 1A cancers measuring less than 10mm, the survival rate was 92 percent.

The study drives home the value and importance of early low-dose CT screening for at-risk populations. Lead author Dr. Claudia Henschke said, “While screening doesn’t prevent cancers from occurring, it is an important tool in identifying lung cancers in their early stage when they can be surgically removed. Ultimately, anyone interested in being screened needs to know that if they are unfortunate enough to develop lung cancer, it can be cured if found early.”

This work underscores the USPSTF recommendation and provides a solid option for those with concern of developing lung cancer.  If you are at high-risk for lung cancer, make sure your physician is talking to you about your screening options.

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