Lung cancer screening can catch tumors when they’re curable, new study finds

For the last six years, Elyssa Barbaro has been shown for lung cancer. New Yorker 71 years old smoke for about 50 years, but she doubts she would have had a preventive CT scan every year if her pulmonologist hadn’t told her she should. Although the procedure only took 15 minutes, it saved her life—more than once. During her CT scans in 2019 and 2020, cancer was discovered in Barbaro’s lungs.

At first, Barbaro was terrified when he learned he had cancer. But because the doctors checked her lungs every year, and every 6 months since she was diagnosed, they could check her lungs. find nodules right after they start to grow up, when they’re still very small. This means that the cancer can be removed easily with surgery, and she doesn’t need aggressive (and often painful) procedures to stop it, like chemotherapy and radiation. Now, Barbaro urges her friends who are current or former smokers to get screened.

“I know people are afraid to find out that something is wrong with them,” Barbaro said. “But for me, a much bigger fear is not knowing what’s wrong with you.”

Lung cancer is leading cause of death from cancerand one reason why many patients have no symptoms until the disease is advanced. In America, only 18.6% of all lung cancer patients survive for five years, as only 16% of lung cancers are diagnosed at an early stage. New research shows that more widespread screening can significantly improve people’s lung cancer survival rates. In research presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America on November 27, an international team of researchers screened more than 87,000 participants, including Barbaro, for different levels of cancer risk. different lung cancer. Screenings are conducted at least annually at more than 80 institutions around the world. Those who were screened annually had a significantly reduced risk of dying from lung cancer; In more than 80% of cases, cancer is detected early. Of the 1,285 patients diagnosed with lung cancer, their survival rate was 80% for 20 years. And 92% of patients with early stage lung cancer live at least 20 years.

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This study adds to evidence that lung cancer screening can save lives. Under Current recommendation of the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF)—an independent agency that reviews hundreds of studies on the prevention and screening of various conditions—people 50 to 80 years of age with 20 “years ” smoking history (calculated by multiplying the number of packs smoked per day by the number of years a person smokes) should be screened annually. So do people in that age group who are current smokers or have quit within the past 15 years. “Lung cancer screening helps people live longer and healthier lives because it detects lung cancer at an early stage,” said Dr John Wong, professor of medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine and a member of the USPSTF. earlier stage, easier to treat. (Wong was not involved in the new study.)

Despite these benefits, most people who qualify are not screened. a year 2017 research published in 2020 found that only about 12 percent of people recommended by the USPSTF criteria at the time had had lung cancer scans in the past 12 months. As a result, many cases of lung cancer are diagnosed at a late stage, when treatment options are few or none. That is part of why the authors of the new study wanted to conduct this study, said Dr. Claudia Henschke, director of the Early Heart and Lung Action Program at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York and a said the lead author of the study. research. “The message is still not enough for people at risk of lung cancer: that they can be cured,” says Henschke. “Going back for annual checkups is very important.”

Dr. Michael Nissenblatt, a New Jersey-based oncologist (who was not involved in the study) said lung cancer patients often have no immediate symptoms because in the early stages, the cancer is too small to cause symptoms. noticeable symptoms. For example, patients do not begin to feel pain until the cancer has spread to the surface of the lung, where it can scratch the chest wall. “Early stage lung cancer that goes undetected will go undetected unless a doctor finds it when testing for another disease,” he said.

Over the past few decades, doctors have made great strides in treating lung cancer, says Nissenblatt. In recent years, more and more patients are surviving stage three and four lung cancer thanks to progress in treatment, which includes a new course of treatment after a year of chemotherapy and radiation with a medicine called durvalumab. However, even with this treatment, Nissenblatt notes, more than half of people with stage three lung cancer die within five years. In this area, “we have made progress, but not very much,” he said.

Scientific advances in surgical techniques have also made it easier to treat early-stage lung cancer. While 20 years ago, patients had to stay in the hospital for 10 days after surgery, he said, the latest procedure allows patients to be discharged the same day or the next morning, he said. “It’s no longer a problem than a cholecystectomy or an appendectomy,” he said.

For patients who fit a certain profile, the choice of screening is clear, Nissenblatt said. “The earlier you are diagnosed, the better your chances of a cure,” he says.

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