Lung cancer is a frightening illness which demands early diagnosis for any possibility of increased survival rates. However, a concern with any type of investigatory scientific study is false positives, which can lead to unnecessary, risky and costly treatment. MedPage Today reported on Dec. 9, 2013, overdiagnosis of lung cancer can occur with CT scan screening for lung cancer. CT stands for computerized tomography.
Cancer.net writes that a CT scan test produces images which allow doctors to see the size and location of a lung tumor and lung cancer metastases. With a CT a three-dimensional picture of the inside of the body is developed with an x-ray machine. A computer then combines these images into a detailed, cross-sectional view which shows any abnormalities or tumors.
Researchers have found about 18 percent of lung cancers which are caught by low-dose CT screening were slow-growing tumors which wouldn't have affected patients during their lifetime. Although a mortality advantage to CT screening has been found, for every one lung cancer death which was prevented per 320 patients with screening in the trial, 1.38 cases of overdiagnosis would be expected.
In summary, when screening for lung cancer with CT screening there is the potential to detect indolent tumors, which results in overdiagnosis. The researchers said, "These overdiagnosis cases represent an important potential harm of screening because they incur additional cost, anxiety, and morbidity associated with cancer treatment." Caution must therefore be taken before deciding to order a CT scan to check for lung cancer.