UPDATE 3-‘Spiral’ CT scans reduce smoker deaths – US study

* Study is first to show screening works for lung cancer

* Scans could save “thousands of lives”

(Updates throughout with quotes, background)

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor

WASHINGTON, Nov 4 (BestGrowthStock) – Screening smokers and former
smokers for lung tumors using three-dimensional X-rays reduced
their risk of dying from lung cancer by 20 percent, researchers
said on Thursday.

The study sponsored by the U.S. National Cancer Institute
is the first to show that people can be screened for lung
cancer, akin to mammograms for breast cancer and tests for
colon and prostate cancer.

“Nothing has ever shown a 20 percent decrease in mortality
in this disease ever before. This is huge,” said Regina
Vidaver, executive director of the National Lung Cancer
Partnership.

The researchers said their findings could save thousands of
lives. Lung cancer kills 1.2 million people a year globally and
it will kill 157,000 people in the United States alone this
year, according to the American Cancer Society.

The trial of more than 53,000 current and former heavy
smokers, aged 55 to 74, found the “spiral” CT scans apparently
catch tumors before they have spread.

“To me this is a game changer,” Vidaver said in a telephone
interview. “We will have what breast cancer has now, which is a
lot of survivors.”

The researchers have some caveats. They do not know whether
the radiation from the CT scans may raise the risk of cancer,
and they do not know what the study means for light smokers,
younger people, or those who have never smoked.

It is also possible the scans will turn up tumors that
would never have killed the patients, and that some people will
undergo unnecessary surgery if they are screened.

It is not clear when or how guidelines for lung cancer
screening could be drawn up, and until they are, insurers
including government programs such as Medicare are unlikely to
pay the average $300 cost of a scan.

For the study, the middle-aged and elderly smokers were
scanned with either a spiral CT or a chest X-ray once a year
for three years starting in August 2002. They were followed for
five years.

The researchers waited until an independent panel could
document a 20 percent reduction in cancer deaths, or could
determine that there was no significant benefit.

As of last month, 354 people who got CTs had died of lung
cancer, compared to 442 who got ordinary X-rays. This worked
out to a 20.3 percent lower risk of dying for the spiral CT
group, and researchers stopped the study.

EARLY DIAGNOSIS

Caught early, lung cancer can be cured surgically, but it
causes vague symptoms and usually is not diagnosed until it has
spread. Only 15 percent of lung cancer patients live 5 years or
more.

“No one should come away from this announcement believing
that it is safe to continue to smoke,” National Cancer
Institute director Dr. Harold Varmus told a news conference.

“This screening does not prevent lung cancer and it does
not protect the large majority of subjects from death by lung
cancer,” Varmus said.

Dr. Bruce Johnson of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in
Boston, who is on the board of the American Society of Clinical
Oncology, said he doubted most people would see the findings as
a green light to smoke.

“The majority of lung cancer diagnoses in the United States
now are either in people who never smoked or in people who have
quit,” Johnson said.

In 2006, Dr. Claudia Henschke of New York Presbyterian
Hospital-Weill Cornell Medical Center caused a stir when she
published a study saying that 80 percent of lung-cancer deaths
could be prevented through widespread use of spiral CT.

Her ideas were controversial to start with and widely
disregarded when other researchers found her work had been paid
for by a tobacco company.

Almost all advanced CT scanners can perform a spiral CT,
and about 60 percent of U.S. hospitals have such a machine.
Makers include General Electric Co’s (GE.N: ) GE Healthcare
Siemens AG (SIEGn.DE: ), Toshiba Corp (6502.T: ), Hitachi (6501.T: )
and Philips (PHG.AS: ).

A fact sheet on spiral CT can be found at
http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/detection/spiral-ct-lung
(With additional reporting by Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago;
Editing by Vicki Allen)

UPDATE 3-‘Spiral’ CT scans reduce smoker deaths – US study