The Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, among others, has begun a CT lung cancer screening program, based upon a recent groundbreaking study that has shown it to be effective in early detection of the disease.
“This can saves lives,” said W. Michael Alberts, M.D., chief medical officer and pulmonologist at Moffitt.
The test is targeting high-risk people 55 to 74 who smoked at least one pack of cigarettes per day for 30 years or those who averaged two packs per day for 15 years.
The theory is that the CT (computed tomography) scan, and what it has the potential of revealing, will give patients a diagnosis before obvious symptoms appear and provide those patients a better chance at surviving.
Based upon the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, smokers who underwent CT scans during a three-year period had a lung cancer mortality rate that was 20 percent lower than those were underwent the traditional chest X-rays during the same period.
“There have been a number of studies in the past, but never one before that showed a mortality benefit like this,” Alberts told Asbestos.com. “This is significant.”
Lung cancer is responsible for almost a third of all cancer deaths, and only 15 percent of those diagnosed with lung cancer live more than five years. The CT scan could change those figures.
Although smoking is the No. 1 cause of lung cancer, it can also be caused by exposure to asbestos. Smoking, coupled with exposure to asbestos fibers, greatly increases the chances of developing lung cancer. Smoking, however, does not increase the risk of developing mesothelioma, the cancer most commonly associated with asbestos exposure.
The biggest problem researchers face with mesothelioma, a much more rare cancer, is that the diagnosis usually doesn’t come until the disease is so far advanced, limiting the chances of survival.
Alberts would not say if he felt that the same low dose CT scans could help with mesothelioma or significant asbestos exposure, like it could help smokers.
“That hasn’t been adequately studied yet,” Alberts explained.
The federally-funded National Lung Screening Trial (NLST), which spanned 33 study sites around the country, included more than 53,000 patients.
Approximately one-fourth of the participants getting a CT scan received a positive result, indicating a possible cancer. More than 90 percent, though, were false positives, which revealed a major flaw in the process. The random trial also did not look at the health risks of undergoing annual scans and the effects of accumulated exposure to radiation.
Most insurance companies still do not cover the cost of the CT scans, according to Alberts, though he expects that to change soon based on the study. Cost for the scan at Moffitt is $350.