Screening all former smokers may quadruple lung cancer survival rates

Screening EVERY former and current smoker over 50 for lung cancer could quadruple survival rates, study shows

  • The average survival rate for all lung cancer patients is just under 19 per cent 
  • This is because symptoms don’t show until the lung cancer is more advanced
  • But when patients were in an early screening program this rose to 80 per cent

Screening every former and current smoker over 50 for lung cancer could quadruple survival rates, a study has indicated.

Researchers from the Mount Sinai hospital found patients given a yearly CT scan had a 20-year survival rate of 80 per cent.

For comparison, most lung cancer patients die within one year of diagnosis and barely a fifth survive five years.

This is because symptoms usually don’t show up until the lung cancer has reached a late stage, meaning screening earlier on in life is the way forward to stop the disease before it progresses.

The US Preventive Services Task Force advises yearly lung cancer screening with low-dose CT in adults between 50 to 80 years with a 20 pack-year smoking history.

This means people who smoke at least a pack a day for 20 years, and who currently smoke or have stopped within the past 15 years.

In the UK, a targeted lung cancer screening program is planned, which will see all former and current smokers between age 55 and 74 invited for an assessment.

High-risk patients will be offered CT scans of their lungs.

Smoking is known to make you more prone to lung cancer, but symptoms do not develop until late in the disease, making early screening essential to boosting survival rates.

The study tracked the 20-year survival rate of 1,285 patients who were screened as part of the International Early Lung Cancer Action Program (ELCAP) and who were later diagnosed with early-stage lung cancer and treated.

The overall survival rate of the participants was 80 per cent. Meanwhile, the survival rates for patients with nonsolid cancerous lung nodules and patients with nodules that had a partly solid consistency was 100 per cent.

The average five-year survival rate across all lung-cancer patients is 19 per cent, largely due to the fact that only 16 per cent of lung cancers are found early enough.

Dr Claudia Henschke, study lead author and director of the ELCAP at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, said: ‘What we present here is the 20-year follow-up on participants in our screening program who were diagnosed with lung cancer and subsequently treated.

‘The key finding is that even after this long [of] a time interval, they are not dying of their lung cancer. And even if new lung cancers were found over time, as long as they continued with annual screening, they would be OK.’

She added: ‘While screening doesn’t prevent cancers from occurring, it is an important tool in identifying lung cancers in their early stage when they can be surgically removed. Ultimately, anyone interested in being screened needs to know that if they are unfortunate enough to develop lung cancer, it can be cured if found early.’

The study is being presented at the Radiological Society of North America.


Lung cancer is one of the most common and serious types of cancer. 

Around 47,000 people are diagnosed with the condition every year in the UK.

There are usually no signs or symptoms in the early stages of lung cancer, but many people with the condition eventually develop symptoms including:

– a persistent cough

– coughing up blood

– persistent breathlessness

– unexplained tiredness and weight loss

– an ache or pain when breathing or coughing

You should see a GP if you have these symptoms.

Types of lung cancer 

There are two main forms of primary lung cancer. 

These are classified by the type of cells in which the cancer starts growing. 

They are:

– Non-small-cell lung cancer. The most common form, accounting for more than 87 per cent of cases. 

– It can be one of three types: squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma or large-cell carcinoma.

– Small-cell lung cancer – a less common form that usually spreads faster than non-small-cell lung cancer.

– The type of lung cancer you have determines which treatments are recommended.

Who’s affected

Lung cancer mainly affects older people. It’s rare in people younger than 40. 

More than four out of 10 people diagnosed with lung cancer in the UK are aged 75 and older.

Although people who have never smoked can develop lung cancer, smoking is the most common cause (accounting for about 72 per cent of cases). 

This is because smoking involves regularly inhaling a number of different toxic substances.

Treating lung cancer

Treatment depends on the type of mutation the cancer has, how far it’s spread and how good your general health is.

If the condition is diagnosed early and the cancerous cells are confined to a small area, surgery to remove the affected area of lung may be recommended.

If surgery is unsuitable due to your general health, radiotherapy to destroy the cancerous cells may be recommended instead.

If the cancer has spread too far for surgery or radiotherapy to be effective, chemotherapy is usually used.

There are also a number of medicines known as targeted therapies. 

They target a specific change in or around the cancer cells that is helping them to grow. 

Targeted therapies cannot cure lung cancer but they can slow its spread.

Source: NHS 

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