Monday, November 8, 2010

Can CT Scans In Smokers Save Lives?

New research from the National Cancer Institute suggests that screening helical CT scans in heavy smokers can save lives. In fact, the study compared patients who were heavy smokers and were screened for lung cancer by either chest x-ray or helical CT scans (also known as "CAT Scans").

What researchers founds was a surprising outcome--those that were screened using CT were 20% less likely to die of lung cancer during the study period. The study evaluated over 50,000 patients who were smokers between the ages of 55 and 75.

There are several reasons why CT may be better. First, CT is better at detecting lung cancers. Yet, many of the abnormalities detected on CT turn out to be normal. Often this results in unnecessary additional testing such as biopsies that could potentially be dangerous. It is important that if an abnormality is detected on CT, that the patient and physician not be overly aggressive in further evaluation.

Most lesions found on a CT that are small (4mm or less) are benign, so a biopsy may add more danger than benefit.

What About Radiation Exposure?
There has been a lot of discussion in the media about the radiation exposure that patients receive when undergoing CT scans. Although this is certainly a concern of ours, it is important to note that there are some theorhetical benefits to low dose radiation, such as seen in CT. For example, some authors have noted that low doses of radiation seem to activate the normally present, complex DNA repair mechanisms in our bodies' cells. In theory, low dose radiation may 'rev up' these repair mechanisms and help reverse some of the DNA damage that can lead to cancer.

How Do I Learn More?
If you are a heavy smoker and are interested in having a screening CT, you may call our office for more information. (918) 260-9932

To read more about the study, you can view the National Cancer Institute's press release, here.

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