Researchers caution against screening for lung cancer without symptoms

Despite the well-established link between lung cancer and smoking, a new study reveals that CT scans in asymptomatic smokers may be more harmful than helpful. According to new research by the National Cancer Institute, a whopping 21 to 33 percent of the suspicious nodules found by CT scans are not cancer. Moreover, even traditional chest X-rays had a 15 percent false positive rate after two rounds of screening.

This may come as disappointing news to hospitals throughout the country promoting CT scans--costing $300 to $1,000--directly to patients as a way to proactively manage their risk for the disease. But despite the on-the-face benefits of screening, the negatives include unnecessary patient anxiety and expense.

The extra scans and biopsies triggered by a false positive add around $1,100 per patient to the cost of lung cancer screening. They also expose people to additional radiation, which can cause cancer itself, notes NPR News.

"You need to know ahead of time'' about the risks, said the study's lead author, Dr. Jennifer Croswell, of the NIH's Office of Medical Applications of Research. "Once you have the test, you just can't back out of that.''

To learn more:
- read this NPR News piece
- check out this Boston Globe article
- here's the Annals of Internal Medicine abstract