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Annual Lung Cancer Screening Boosts Survival Rates, World-First Study Finds

Long-term study shows early detection through CT scans leads to 81% survival rate over 20 years

Annual screening for lung cancer dramatically boosts chances of survival, a world-first long-term study concludes.

Researchers in the United States conducting a 20-year study found that diagnoses by annual low-dose CT scans afforded patients a survival rate of 81 percent over the next two decades.

And, if diagnosed in its earliest stages, long-term survival in lung cancer sufferers skyrocketed to 95 percent.

The study, published in the journal Radiology, highlights the potential to boost survival rates by diagnosing lung cancer as early as possible.

Lung cancer is the deadliest form of cancer across the globe – killing more people each year than any other cancer.

According to the American Lung Association, the average five-year survival rate for lung cancer is a shocking 18.6 percent.

Just a fraction (16 percent) of lung cancers are currently diagnosed at an early stage, and more than half of lung cancer sufferers die within a year of being diagnosed.

In the UK alone, nearly 35,000 people died between 2017 and 2019 from lung cancer, accounting for a fifth of all cancer deaths in that time period.

In the United States, the average five-year survival rate for all lung cancer patients is just a quarter (25.4 percent), as only 21 percent of lung cancers are diagnosed at an early stage and are more commonly only diagnosed once obvious symptoms emerge.

As a result, more than half of people with lung cancer die within a mere year of their first diagnosis.

Annual screening for lung cancer dramatically boosts chances of survival, a world-first long-term study concludes. ROBINA WEERMEIJER/UNSPLASH

However, early diagnosis has been found to boost survival chances in patients suffering with lung cancer.

Though treatments of more advanced-stage cancers with targeted therapy and immunotherapy have come a long way in recent years, the most effective tool in fighting cancer deaths is early diagnosis through low-dose CT screening prior to the appearance of symptoms.

Since 1992, scientists at the Early Lung and Cardiac Action Program at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, have been assessing the effectiveness of low-dose CT screening for lung cancer, which led to the creation of the International Early Lung Cancer Action Program (I-ELCAP).

Since its inception, I-ELCAP has recruited more than 89,000 participants across 80 worldwide institutions to study lung cancer screening.

In 2006 the researchers identified a ten-year survival rate of 80 percent for patients whose cancer was identified by CT screening.

For this latest study, they turned their attention to longer-term, 20-year survival rates.

This latest study, headed by radiology professor Dr. Claudia Henschke and her team, found that among the 1,257 I-ELCAP participants diagnosed with lung cancer, 81 percent had Stage I disease – when the cancer is a very small tumor which is yet to have spread to any lymph nodes.

In this latest study, the long-term survival rate for Stage I cancers was 87 percent.

The study’s results demonstrate that, after 20 years, patients diagnosed with lung cancer at an early stage by CT screening have vastly better outcomes, and that by treating cancer whilst it’s small, patients can be effectively cured in the long term.

“This is the first time that 20-year survival rates from annual screening have been reported,” lead author Dr. Henschke said.

“This 20-year survival rate of 81 percent is the estimated cure rate of all participants with lung cancers diagnosed by annual screening.

“This is a huge benefit compared to waiting for a diagnosis that, in usual care, is symptom-prompted.

Annual screening for lung cancer dramatically boosts chances of survival, a world-first long-term study concludes. ANNA SHVETS/PEXELS

“We were excited to see that the estimated cure rate we reported in 2006 has persisted after 20 years of follow-up.

“Lung cancer can be cured if you enroll in an annual screening program using a well-defined protocol and comprehensive management system.

“It is important to return for annual screening.

“While screening doesn’t prevent cancers from occurring, it is the major tool to identify lung cancers in their earliest stage when they can be cured.”

The researchers additionally included participants who smoked less than 10-pack years – ten years of smoking a pack of 20 cigarettes a day – as well as those who have never smoked but have endured passive exposure to cigarette smoke.

Dr. Henschke explained that this was due to the frequency of lung cancer diagnoses in non-smokers.

“The less than 10 pack-years of smoking includes people who have never smoked,” she said.

“In the United States, some 25 percent of lung cancers are diagnosed in people who have never smoked.

“Ultimately, anyone interested in being screened needs to know that if they are unfortunate enough to develop lung cancer, it can be cured if found early.

“Even if new lung cancers were found over time, as long as they continued with annual screening, they could be cured.”

The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends annual lung cancer screening with low-dose CT in adults aged between 50 and 80 years who have a 20-pack-year smoking history and currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years.

In the UK, the National Screening Committee recommends that people at high risk of lung cancer are invited to targeted lung cancer screening.

Produced in association with SWNS Talker

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