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Computed Tomography Screening for the Early Detection of Lung Cancer

Rebecca P. Petersen and David H. Harpole Jr.

Although lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death in the world and has an increased chance of cure if detected at an earlier stage, routine lung cancer screening is currently not recommended in the United States. Unfortunately, most patients with lung cancer present only after the onset of symptoms and have advanced disease that cannot be surgically resected. The overall 5-year survival rate for all patients with lung cancer is only 15%. When the cancer is detected at its earliest stage (pathologic stage IA), however, the 5-year survival rate is more than 70%. Although past randomized screening trials evaluating the use of standard chest radiography or sputum cytology have not resulted in lower mortality, recent studies suggest that computed tomography (CT) may have promise as a screening tool. This article summarizes experience over the past decade of using low-dose spiral CT imaging as a screening tool to detect early lung cancers in asymptomatic, high-risk individuals.