Low-Dose CT Screening Provides Hope for Early Mesothelioma Detection

The American Cancer Society, along with the Lunch Cancer Alliance and other medical agencies throughout the country, is now endorsing low-dose CT screening for those at risk for lung cancer. Mesothelioma attorneys hope that this new screening method will help save the lives of asbestos exposure victims through earlier detection.

This development was spearheaded by the National Cancer Institute, which funded a study comparing two different way of detecting lung cancer: standard chest X-rays and low-dose CT screening. The study was entitled the National Lung Screening Trial (NLST), and was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. NLST enrolled over 53,000 participants with a history of smoking, ages 55 to 74, from dozens of centers throughout the United States.

Mesothelioma and other lung cancers have an extraordinarily low prognosis, mostly attributed to a lack of early detection methods. This is compounded by the lack of awareness of the reality of asbestos exposure. Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral, was used abundantly in the U.S. up until 1979, and was mined until 2003. The construction, automotive, shipbuilding, and manufacturing industries were and continue to be the most at-risk populations for asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses take decades to develop, which means that very few people to ever detect the disease in its early stages, when it can most successfully be treated or removed.

The NLST is a nearly decade-long study that establishes low-dose CT as the first validated screening test which can reduce mortality due to lung cancer. Participants in the NLST were randomly assigned to receive three annual screens with either low-dose CT or standard chest X-ray. CT scans use X-rays to obtain a multiple-image scan of the entire chest, while a standard chest X-ray produces a single image of the whole chest in which anatomic structures overlie one another.

Adverse events (harms from the actual screenings), were few and relatively minor in the NLST. The rate of complications among people who underwent an evaluation prompted by a positive screening was under 2%. Radiation exposure associated with low-dose CTs in the NLST is much lower than that associated with a regular diagnostic chest CT. The authors note any harm from exposure to radiation during the screening could not be measured directly.

NLST scientists found a 20% reduction in deaths from lung cancer among current or former smokers who were screened with low-dose CT versus those screened by chest X-ray. Having a validated screening test that provides significant, but partial, protection against death from lung cancer complements – but should not be seen as replacing – ongoing efforts to control use of tobacco and asbestos and to find other ways to prevent and treat lung cancer.

These primary findings from the NLST provide a valuable insight into how to potentially decrease death due to lung cancer. But the most important method of decreasing lung cancer rates remains for smoker to quit smoking and the general public to become aware of asbestos exposure.

A similar test was performed in Italy in 2007, focusing exclusively on asbestos exposure victims. The Italian study examined over 1,000 volunteers. Pleural abnormalities were observed in 44% and 70% of participants by chest X-ray and low-dose CT, respectively. Overall, low-dose CT identified nine cases of non-small cell lung cancer – eight stage I and one stage II. None were detected by chest X-ray. There were eleven false-positives. These findings suggest that low-dose CT may be at least as useful in asbestos workers as in heavy smokers for the early diagnosis or lung cancer. The benefit is evident even in a population with low rates of smoking prevalence.

Lung cancer lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm commend the efforts of the Italian researchers and those scientists involved in the NLST study. The conclusions of both studies should be taken very seriously by those at-risk populations (current or former smokers and those occupationally or otherwise exposed to asbestos). We understand that a lung cancer diagnosis can be devastating, but early detection is the best way to successfully beat the illness. If you or someone you love was diagnosed with mesothelioma or any other asbestos-related disease, contact an asbestos exposure attorney immediately for a free legal consultation.

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