Annual X-Rays Aren't Enough to Stop Lung Cancer

Xrays do not decrease lung cancer deaths

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) An X-Ray is a great way to see our bones and other problems in the body. It is not, unfortunately, an effective way to screen for lung cancer.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota examined data collected from the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian (PLCO) Cancer Screening Trial in regards to screenings and their effect on lung cancer deaths. Researchers discovered that annual X-rays did not improve the rate of survival.

"Quitting smoking is still the best way to prevent lung cancer."

X-rays have been commonly used to detect lung cancer along with Computed Tomography (CT) scans. In the trial, 154,901 patients were separated into two groups. The first group of 77,445 were scheduled to have annual X-ray screenings. The second group of 77,456 had physician managed care and no X-ray screenings.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death worldwide. The trial lasted for 13 years, beginning in November 1993. Both groups had similar numbers of men and women as well as smokers and non-smokers.

The first group had annual X-rays for four years. Over 90 percent of the patients had at least one X-ray and close to 80 percent of the group had annual X-rays in the third year. Out of the group, lung cancer was detected in 1,696 patients. Through the 13 years of study, 1,213 lung cancer patients died from the disease.

In the second group, lung cancer was detected in 1,620 patients. Within that group of patients, 1,230 had died from the disease.

For the authors of the study, because the two groups were so similar at the start of the trial and both groups followed the rules of the trial, these results provide concrete evidence that X-rays are not effective in reducing lung cancer deaths.

According to Harold C. Sox, M.D., of Dartmouth Medical School, West Lebanon, N.H., the next step is to evaluate new screening methods. For the future, Dr. Sox suggests examining the effectiveness of CT scans against physician managed care.

For Dr. Sox and the researchers, early detection can reduce the risk of lung cancer deaths and the next step is to find an effective imaging technique to help diagnosis lung cancer. 

This study was published in the November edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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Review Date: 
October 26, 2011
Last Updated:
October 21, 2012