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For some types of cancer, it’s clear that screenings save lives. But for lung cancer, which kills more Americans than any other malignancy, doctors aren’t so sure.
A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association adds another piece to the puzzle. Healthy people who got a yearly chest X-ray to screen for lung cancer were no less likely to die of the disease over four years than those who didn’t get screened. The results were similar for people who smoked, the main risk factor for lung cancer.
Testing Pros and Cons
Chest X-rays are one of three tests that have been studied to screen for lung cancer. The other two tests are:
Sputum cytology hasn’t been shown to save lives when used for screening. It’s only effective at catching certain types of lung cancer, and only when you already have symptoms. The good news about CT scans is that a recent study found that, for people at high risk for lung cancer, CT scans may reduce the risk for death by about 20 percent. The downside is that this screening has its own risks. Both X-rays and CT scans expose you to radiation, which may increase your cancer risk. Or you might get a positive result even if you don’t have cancer, which can lead to anxiety and unnecessary, invasive testing.
More Guidance on the Way
Expert groups are in the process of revising their guidelines on lung cancer screening to address the latest research. In the meantime, the American Cancer Society advises that heavy smokers ages 55 to 74 should talk with their doctors about lung cancer screening with CT scans.
If you have symptoms of lung cancer, such as chest pain, shortness of breath, or a cough that doesn’t go away or brings up blood, tell your doctor. He or she may use one of the tests above to determine the cause.
Find a San Diego Oncologist
To find a Sharp-affiliated doctor, search for a San Diego oncologist or call 1-800-82-SHARP (1-800-827-4277), Monday through Friday, 8 am to 6 pm.