How to detect the deadliest form of cancer

Lung cancer kills more people than any other form of tumour.
About 9 out of 10 people die within 5 years of being diagnosed with the disease.
If the cancer is caught very early, most patients could be cured, but doctors struggle to diagnose
early because there are no symptoms until the cancer is in its late stages and has spread
to other organs.
Some experts think that doctors should screen people at high risk to find lung cancer before
symptoms appear.
The National Lung Screening Trial in America subjected 53,000 current and former heavy
smokers to either x-ray or computer tomography scans every year for three years.
These results, reported in 2011, found that screening with CT scans did save lives, but
there was a problem.
Too many of the lumps found during the screening were not cancer.
This is known as a false positive.
False positives can harm patients who undergo dangerous follow-up procedures, such as biopsies,
even if they do not have cancer.
It can also affect their mental health, and false positives add to the cost of healthcare.
According to new data from the World Health Organization, these harms can be greatly reduced
by following a different protocol.
Instead of treating all lumps as a positive result, doctors are now advised to ignore
the smallest nodules and treat them as a negative result.
This has halved the rate of false positives.
Out of every 1,000 people who were scanned, 356 people required follow-up testing under
the old protocol.
With the new protocol, that has fallen to 180.
Complications from follow-up testing have also been reduced.
These results show promise.
Many countries are waiting for the full report of another trial called NELSON before deciding
whether to set up fully-fledged screening programs.
Preliminary data from the NELSON trial suggest that screening reduces the death rate from
lung cancer among high-risk men by 26% and 61% in women.
If a balance between the cost and benefits of screening can be found, lung cancer need
no longer be a death sentence.
Coming up next, what we know about Alzheimer’s.

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