CT scans for lung cancer could expose people to serious risks of injury and even death from needless surgery, researchers in the US now say.
As lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among men and women, doctors generally hope that early detection and treatment could save lives. But a study in New York seems to show CT scans are not of great help that way.
Dr. Peter B. Bach, a lung specialist and epidemiologist, who led the study, said conclusively, "We don't think there is a hint of a benefit."
The team feels that screening had perhaps led to the detection and treatment of cancers that did not need to be treated at all. They might not have grown enough in the person's lifetime to cause any harm.
On the other hand, treatment of deadly varieties following detection during the New York study did not help. The patients concerned did die ultimately.
Lung cancers are of different types. Some tumors are pretty much harmless.
The extra surgical treatment prompted by screening can be harmful, researchers say.
The death rate from lung cancer surgery is 5 percent. In addition, 20 percent to 40 percent of people who have such surgery have serious complications, like heart attacks, large blood clots in their lungs, pneumonia that requires time on a ventilator, and infections leading to repeat operations.
Another previous study of CT scans had claimed that more than 80 per cent of lung cancer deaths could be prevented with CT scans.
But there were methodological problems in that study and hence the inference cannot be fully trusted, others say.
Screening tests are worthwhile, these researchers say, only if the death rate in the screened group is lower than the rate in people who are not screened. That is yet to be proven.
A far more comprehensive study is now on, but it will be a few years before its results are made available.