And So It Begins

It’s only been a few days since researchers released preliminary results of a major trial of early detection of lung cancer in heavy smokers using CT scans. At the time, the American Cancer Society and others (including the authors themselves) expressed cautious optimism, with emphasis on the cautious, saying that although enormously promising, the data was not enough to call for routine use of this screening test, even in heavy smokers. But as we’ve discussed here, not everyone could resist the pull of touting the “good news” with little balance.

But our greatest fear was that forces with an economic interest in the test would sidestep the scientific process and use the release of the data to start promoting CT scans. Frankly, even we are surprised how quickly that has happened.

Last night, as he worked quietly in his home office, our Chief Medical Officer sat wide-eyed as he listened to an advertisement on an Atlanta radio station touting the results of the study to promote a local hospital’s lung cancer screening program.

This morning, we were made aware of a press release from a group of doctors in Los Angeles promoting these scans. It actually appeared the day the news came out. It says:

“…this study should once and for all settle the controversy regarding the utility of screening CT of the lungs in saving lives.”

We’ve said it before, but not even the researchers who did the study –one of whom the press release has the audacity to quote– would agree with that statement.

As Dr. Len Lichtenfeld discussed in his blog last week, there is still much to discuss and learn about the test. And if you are someone who meets the criteria similar to people who participated in this study, then a scan might be worth considering.  But before you do that, it would be wise to have a conversation with your health professional and consider whether screening is right for you. But oversimplifying these difficult issues in the pursuit of a compelling story or of paying clients is a disservice to public health.

About David Sampson

I am the director of medical and scientific communications for the American Cancer Society national home office.
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