It’s a cancer conundrum, how to find lung cancer early enough to treat it effectively. As of now, the top cancer killer is mostly found in late stages. Which is why researchers are constantly looking for what’s next.
“There’s been studies looking at sputum cytology, actually having people cough and evaluate the cells of the smear to look for cancer. People have looked at x-rays, chest x-rays to try and find lung cancer earlier,” says Dr. Keith Miller, radiation oncologist on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.
Currently neither chest x-rays or sputum tests have been shown to be effective as a screener for lung cancer. But the search continues. Blood tests to look for biomarkers may show promise. But there is a new success story. Low-dose spiral CT scans have been shown to decrease the risk of dying from lung cancer in heavy smokers.
“The goal is to screen large populations of high-risk patients for lung cancer to catch it earlier. We want to limit the amount of radiation that’s delivered to people since it’s a screening test and we found the CT scans are an effective way to do that,” says Dr. Miller.
Lo-dose CT scans are 3-dimensional and offer a better chance at finding small nodules. In trials CT scans reduced deaths by 20% in heavy, long-term smokers. This particular screening method is limited to high-risk categories. A first step in making lung cancer more survivable.
“I think as we get better and better tools to find cancer earlier and earlier, we’re going to have better results,” says Dr. Miller.