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Low-Dose CT Screening Drastically Improves Lung Cancer Long-Term Survival

By MedImaging International staff writers
Posted on 08 Nov 2023
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Image: A study has demonstrated the importance of low-dose CT screening for early detection of lung cancer (Photo courtesy of 123RF)
Image: A study has demonstrated the importance of low-dose CT screening for early detection of lung cancer (Photo courtesy of 123RF)

Lung cancer tops the list as the most deadly form of cancer. The American Lung Association notes that only about 18.6% of those diagnosed with lung cancer survive beyond five years. Early detection is rare, with just 16% of cases discovered at an initial stage, and sadly, more than half of individuals with lung cancer pass away within a year of their diagnosis. While the treatment of late-stage cancers has improved with therapies that target cancer cells and bolster the immune system, detecting lung cancer early, particularly through low-dose CT scans before symptoms emerge, is critical for saving lives. A comprehensive international study spanning two decades has now shown that early detection of lung cancer through low-dose CT scanning significantly increases the survival rate to 81% over 20 years. And when lung cancer was caught at Stage I, the earliest stage, the survival rate jumped to an impressive 95%.

Since 1992, the research team at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (New York, NY, USA) has been examining the impact of low-dose CT scans in identifying lung cancer early. This work resulted in the International Early Lung Cancer Action Program (I-ELCAP), which has brought together more than 89,000 individuals from over 80 institutions worldwide. Going forward into 2024, the program aims to broaden its reach, collaborating with clinical and governmental bodies to initiate lung screening initiatives in underrepresented and economically challenged nations across two additional continents. Earlier findings in 2006 had revealed a 10-year survival rate of 80% when lung cancer was spotted through CT screening. For the latest study, the team looked at 20-year survival rates.

The new findings highlight that 81% of the 1,257 participants diagnosed with lung cancer through the I-ELCAP had Stage I cancer, characterized by a small tumor confined to the lung without spreading to lymph nodes. For these Stage I cancers, the study noted an 87% long-term survival rate. This emphasizes the life-saving potential of low-dose CT scans for the early detection of lung cancer. Notably, the study also took into account individuals who smoked minimally, such as those with less than 10 pack-years of smoking history, and even non-smokers who were exposed to secondhand smoke. The 20-year follow-up data from the study underscores that patients with early-stage lung cancer identified via CT scans have remarkably better survival prospects. Early treatment of these small tumors can lead to their long-term remission and cure.

"It is the first time that 20-year survival rates from annual screening have been reported," said the study's lead author, Claudia Henschke, Ph.D., M.D., professor of radiology and director of the Early Lung and Cardiac Action Program at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. "This 20-year survival rate of 81% is the estimated cure rate of all participants with lung cancers diagnosed by annual screening. This is a huge benefit compared to waiting for a diagnosis that, in usual care, is symptom-prompted."

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Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

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