Screening for lung cancer is not currently recommended, even in persons at high risk for this condition. Most patients with lung cancer present with symptomatic disease that is usually at an incurable, advanced stage. The recently reported NLST (National Lung Screening Trial) showed a 20% decrease in deaths from lung cancer in high-risk persons undergoing screening with low-dose computed tomography of the chest compared with chest radiography.
The high-risk group included in the trial comprised asymptomatic persons aged 55 to 74 years, with smoking history of at least 30 pack-years. Screening with low-dose computed tomography detected more cases of early-stage lung cancer and fewer cases of advanced-stage cancer, confirming that screening has shifted the stage of cancer at diagnosis and provides more persons with the opportunity for curative treatment. Although computed tomography screening has risks and limitations, the 20% decrease in deaths is the single most dramatic decrease ever reported for deaths from lung cancer, with the possible exception of smoking cessation. Physicians should offer computed tomography screening for lung cancer to patients who fit the high-risk profile defined in the NLST.