Lung cancer screening benefits uncertain say scientists

In collaboration with the Press Association

The benefits of X-ray screening to detect early lung cancers remain ambiguous, a US trial has said, finding that it did not significantly reduce overall mortality.

Although the screening programme of 3,246 current and former smokers found almost three times the number of lung cancers expected, it did not show any change in survival.

Over a five-year follow-up, despite 100 more lung cancer diagnoses than expected, 38 people died of lung cancer. This was little different from 39, the number that would have been expected to die without intervention.

The results contradict a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine, which found significant benefit from lung cancer screening.

Because many lung cancers are not diagnosed until relatively advanced, researchers had hoped that by detecting tumours at an earlier stage they would be able to reduce fatalities.

"The purpose of large-scale screening is to save lives, but after five years of follow-up, our data provides no evidence that screening prevented deaths from lung cancer," said senior researcher Dr Colin Begg.

The study was conducted by the Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre and is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.