Finally, a study
showed the benefit of using advanced techniques to screen for lung cancer
Lung cancer is one of the most difficult cancers to treat,
especially because it is often diagnosed late. It can develop without
noticeable symptoms and may have spread to other parts of the body by the time
it is diagnosed.
But if lung cancer is diagnosed early, treatment is more
likely to be successful. Treatment may be possible with surgery, rather than
radiotherapy or chemotherapy.
Rather than a standard chest X-ray, the clinicians used computerised
tomography (CT) scans. This uses X-rays to obtain a multiple-image scan of
the entire chest, creating detailed images of the inside of the body. CT scans
are more sensitive, picking up small, treatable tumours that are missed by
standard X-rays. Research
with HIV-negative people at high risk of lung cancer shows that screening
with CT scans reduces deaths from lung cancer.
French clinicians wanted to see if screening with CT scans
could help people living with HIV. Those screened smoked heavily or had smoked
for many years. Of 442 people screened, 94 had unclear results or an
abnormality that needed some follow-up. Lung cancer was ruled out for most
participants, but ten people were diagnosed with lung cancer.
Importantly, six were diagnosed at an early, treatable
stage. These cases are likely to have been missed if basic X-rays were used or
screening didn’t happen at all. Also, most of the cases were in people in their
forties and fifties, suggesting that screening shouldn’t only be reserved for
In the UK, CT scans are currently only used after a standard
X-ray has identified a problem. A leading cancer doctor has warned that delays
introducing screening with CT scans could cost thousands of lives.