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An X-ray Alternative

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in Americans, and this problem is even more pronounced in Kentucky. The majority of lung cancers are diagnosed in late stages, when treatment options are less effective. Only 16 percent of patients survive five years past diagnosis.

Is there a way to detect lung cancer earlier?

A breakthrough study published by the National Lung Screening Trial Research Team found that screening for lung cancer with low-dose computed tomography (CT) scans can significantly reduce mortality rates. Study participants were high-risk—current or former heavy smokers between 55 and 74.

How does this compare with regular X-rays?

In the study, CT screenings reduced mortality by 20 percent in the high-risk population compared with traditional chest X-rays. Screening may provide a sense of reassurance for those who are not diagnosed with lung cancer, as well as an opportunity to reduce their risk by quitting smoking.

What is the accuracy of CT scans?

Of the study participants who had abnormal CT scans, 96 percent of the results were false-positives. False-positives can lead to unnecessary follow-up studies or procedures, in addition to the temporary psychological burden for the patient. Screening also has the potential for false-negatives, where subtle lesions may be missed due to detection or interpretation errors. Because of this, the decision to undergo screening should be well-informed, shared between the patient and healthcare

For more information about lung cancer screening, contact your primary care provider or visit; click on Screening/Detection for the link to lung cancer screening.

JAMIE STUDTS is a University of Kentucky associate professor and  member of the Cancer Prevention and Control Program of the Markey Cancer Center.

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