Sept. 5 (UPI) -- Lung cancer screenings for smokers may also help detect other deadly ailments associated with the habit, new findings show.
About 77 percent of patients who received CT scans for lung cancer were diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, emphysema or osteoporosis, according to a study published in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseases.
"Only 2 percent of smokers who have lung cancer screenings are going to be found to have actual cancer," Elizabeth Regan, a researcher at National Jewish Health and study lead author, told UPI. "We are providing evidence that you can use those same scans without much of change in expense and be able to identify emphysema, evidence of heart disease and osteoporosis."
Regan says identifying these conditions early can help doctors treat them more successfully.
Researchers analyzed 4,100 CT scans of patients in the COPDGene trial who were between age 55 and 80 and smoked about a pack of cigarettes per day for 30 or more years. Among the previously undiagnosed conditions found using the scans, 46 percent of patients had osteoporosis, 25 percent had cardiovascular disease and 7 percent had emphysema.
Roughly 7 percent of those with previously undiagnosed cardiovascular disease had a heart attack or stroke within the next five years, which is roughly 50 percent more than without the condition.
An additional 44 percent with new osteoporosis diagnoses had vertebral fractures in later years, more than twice without the diagnosis.
And 35 percent of patients newly diagnosed with emphysema either experienced pneumonia or lung aggravations some years later.
Overall, Regan hopes the health risks associated with smoking will help to push people further away from the habit.
"If you tell somebody, 'Hey your CT scan did not show cancer,' they're more likely to continue smoking," Regan said. "But if you tell them to show that you have emphysema, or heart disease, or bone disease, that is related to smoking, it gives them, maybe, an incentive to stop smoking."