Lung cancer is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States, with more than 157,000 deaths reported last year, according to the National Cancer Institute. Most lung cancers are caused by tobacco smoke. The longer a person is exposed to the smoke the greater the risk for developing the disease.
For many years there have been no accepted screening tests for lung cancer. Today there's a new sense of hope on the horizon. It comes in the form of the spiral computed tomography (CT) screening.
"On average, lung cancer is typically diagnosed in the later stages of the disease when it is extremely difficult to treat," says Reginald Munden, M.D., a professor in the Department of Diagnostic Radiology and MD Anderson's principal investigator on the clinical trial. In the NLST, the low-dose spiral CT scan identified more tumors at early stages, when they are more easily treated.
Study results translate into action
In response, MD Anderson has launched a lung cancer screening program for current and former smokers age 50 years or older who have smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for at least 20 years.
The comprehensive program was developed to help prevent lung cancer deaths by using tools designed to detect lung cancer in its earliest stages, while offering a multidisciplinary team of experts to analyze results. In addition, MD Anderson provides smoking-cessation programs and risk assessments geared at challenging smokers to make appropriate lifestyle changes to increase their chances for survival.
Therese Bevers, M.D., medical director of the Cancer Prevention Center at MD Anderson, adds recommended screenings to the top of that list.
"Some cancers are preventable and treatable if detected early," says Bevers, M.D., who also is MD Anderson's co-investigator on the national trial. "Because the standard chest X-ray is unable to detect lung cancer when it is small, we recommend CT scanning as the screening tool for lung cancer."
Munden understands that screening offers more than just hope to former and current smokers who are at risk for developing cancer, it also provides an opportunity to make the individual healthy overall. "During the trial, we discovered some participants at increased risk for other health risks and potential diseases," he says.