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Lung cancer survival increases sharply if caught early, study says

In a trial in England, researchers found stage 1 and 2 lung cancer in high risk patients they say would have been missed with usual care.

By
Stephen Feller
Lung cancer is already difficult to treat, but it is made more difficult by the fact that many cases are caught at an advanced stage. Researchers in England found that with increased screening of high risk people, more cases can be found earlier and increase the chance of five-year survival with the disease. Photo by Sebastian Kaulitzki/Shutterstock
Lung cancer is already difficult to treat, but it is made more difficult by the fact that many cases are caught at an advanced stage. Researchers in England found that with increased screening of high risk people, more cases can be found earlier and increase the chance of five-year survival with the disease. Photo by Sebastian Kaulitzki/Shutterstock

LIVERPOOL, England, May 25 (UPI) -- Increased screening to identify and monitor people at high risk for lung cancer could increase their chance for five-year survival by nearly three-quarters, according to a recent study in England.

Researchers at the University of Liverpool suggest leaders in Britain set up a national screening program to catch more lung cancer earlier, with the hope of saving -- or preserving -- the lives of people diagnosed with the disease.

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Already difficult to treat, lung cancer often poses an even greater challenge for doctors because 70 percent of the time it is not found until it is at an advanced stage and possibly incurable.

The large trial undertaken by researchers is the first to be conducted in England, and uses a population-based questionnaire to identify people at high risk for the disease, researchers said. A similar trial in the United States is said to have reduced lung cancer death by about 20 percent.

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While the English trial showed a lot of potential to catch cancer earlier, the researchers say they may hold off for the completion of another trial in Holland before lobbying for the establishment of a national program -- though they're already convinced it is a good idea.

"If we could detect lung cancer via screening of high risk individuals, it would make a major impact on the diagnosis of lung cancer at an earlier stage of the disease and would greatly improve the survival rates of those affected by this terrible disease," Dr. John Field, a clinical professor of molecular oncology at the University of Liverpool, said in a press release.

For the U.K. Lung Cancer Screening Trial, the results of which are published in the journal Health Technology Assessment, researchers recruited 4,055 people at high risk for lung cancer, screening 2,028 with low dose computer tomography or usual screening measures.

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Of the participants, 2.1 percent were diagnosed with lung cancer, with 85.7 percent of diagnosed participants identified as stage 1 or 2 and 83.3 percent percent having surgery as their primary treatment.

"The UKLS trial has successfully demonstrated that we have a way to screen for lung cancer in high risk individuals in the UK," Field said. "However, as UKLS was a pilot trial, researchers are currently awaiting the outcome of the Dutch CT screening trial, which will potentially provide mortality data to argue for iplementation of a national lung cancer screening program in the UK."

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