Lung Cancer Test May Save Lives but Has Drawbacks

Connecticut residents may be interested to learn that a 2011 study showed that spiral CT scans might reduce lung cancer deaths by 20 percent, but some doctors say the potential dangers of the test outweigh the benefits. One concern is the high incidence of false positives. Based on the study results, out of 1,000 patients who are scanned, about three lives will be saved while more than 230 patients will persistently get false positives.

Beyond the stress created by false positives, patients may suffer complications from further testing. A lung biopsy can result in the lung collapsing. Some physicians worry that the controlled conditions of the 2011 study will not be replicated in the real world.

In the study, patients were well-informed about the potential for false positives, and doctors were careful to avoid unnecessary biopsies and other invasive follow-up tests. Furthermore, the radiologists involved in the study had a great deal of experience in interpreting lung cancer on scans. Individuals who do choose to get the scan should do so at a center with similarly experienced radiologists. Medicare has approved the testing for individuals who have smoked at least a pack a day for 30 years and who are aged 55 to 77. The results will be tracked for effectiveness.

Since individuals within the general population might be even more likely to get a false positive and have additional tests than the participants in the study did, invasive follow-up procedures could cause complications. Whether radiologists fail to diagnose cancer or find a false positive, patients who are harmed as a result may wish to consult an attorney if they feel it is due to medical malpractice. While there is a reasonable margin of error in medicine, if negligence is the reason for the misdiagnosis, a civil lawsuit might be successful.