FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Long-time smokers who get a CT scan once a year, like women who go for a mammogram, can greatly increase their odds of surviving lung cancer - to upwards of 90 percent - for what is now the deadliest cancer in both men and women, killing 164,000 in this country every year, new research shows.
An 11-year international study published in Wednesday's New England Journal of Medicine involving more than 31,500 people screened smokers and others at high risk by taking CT scans of their lungs. Those whose tumors were caught early had a 10-year-survival rate of 88 to 92 percent, compared with only 5 percent survival when tumors are not caught until they have spread.
Some critics said the study is not definitive because it did not compare the patients who received CT scans to a group who got X-rays and a group who had no scan. Ongoing studies in this country and in Europe that will make those comparisons.
"The survival rates are certainly far above anything else reported, or in patients receiving 'the usual care,' and we don't need to screen the entire population, just those considered at risk," said Dr. Richard Thurer, who led the arm of the study at Jackson Memorial Hospital and the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
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Thurer compared the annual CT scan to women having a mammogram to catch early breast cancers.
"We focused on people over 50 with (a smoking history) of one pack a day for 10 years, or two packs a day for 5 years. And they don't have to be current smokers. They may have smoked in the past and it added up to that," Thurer said.
The screening found lung cancer in 484 of the participants. Of the total, 412 had small, pea-size tumors that had not spread, which are considered stage 1 cancers. Their overall 10-year survival rate was estimated at 88 percent. Among the 302 patients with stage 1 tumors who underwent surgery within one month of diagnosis, the estimated 10-year survival rate was 92 percent, researchers reported.