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What does a real cancer screening benefit need to look like?

Posted Nov 05 2010 12:00am

The results of the National Lung Screening Trial were announced yesterday. They show a clear reduction in risk of death from lung cancer among people with a history of heavy smoking. There was a lot of media hoopla.

The basic result of the study is that men and women aged between 55 and 75 who had smoked cigarettes for not less than 30 pack-years and who were diagnosed with lung cancer by low-dose spiral CT scan (three scans over a 2-year period) were 20 percent less likely to die of lung cancer within 5 years than men and women who received a traditional X-ray. (Thirty pack-years of cigarettes equates to one pack a day for 30 years, or two packs a day for 15 years, etc.)

Details of this study, for those who are interested, can be found in the following materials on line:

Of course the other interesting thing about this study is that the cancer-specific survival benefit of low-dose spiral CT screening for lung cancer (admittedly within 5 years) appears to be exactly the same as the cancer-specific survival benefit of PSA testing for prostate cancer risk in the ERSPC trial (which required 10+ years to become evident). So what is the USPSTF going to do with this set of data?

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