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European Lung Screening Trial Demonstrates New Diagnosis Strategy

Washington, DC [December 4, 2009]--A simple, inexpensive computer tool that measures volume changes in the size of suspicious nodules in the lungs picked up by a CT scanner can rule out non-cancerous ones with almost perfect accuracy and enable doctors to diagnose true cancers with fewer, less expensive and less invasive tests.

The new diagnostic guidelines are described in a paper published yesterday in the New England Journal of Medicine on the progress of large European lung cancer CT screening trial (NELSON) launched in the Netherlands and Belgium in 2004.

“For years, those of us on the front lines of managing this extremely lethal disease have seen firsthand the impact early detection can have on the patients we serve and the people who love and care for them,” said Dr. Michael Vincent Smith, an Atlanta-Area thoracic surgeon, President-Elect of the Atlanta Medical Association and founder of the first lung cancer early detection program in the state of Georgia.  

“This carefully executed trial in over 7000 screening participant provides insight into management modalities to assist practicing physicians who diagnose and treat lung cancers,” he said.

Advances in imaging technology have enabled scanners to detect suspicious nodules in the lung smaller than a grain of rice, but how to determine which ones are cancerous without further expensive or invasive and potentially dangerous testing is the question.

NELSON collaborators addressed the issue by using volume measurement and volume doubling time as the criteria for further action, a concept first proposed by CT diagnostic pioneers with the International Early Lung Cancer Action Program.

The refined protocol can rule out non-cancer nodules with 99.9% accuracy and at the same time reduce the number of tests required to confirm cancer in a malignant nodule. In the NELSON trial, only 1% of positive cancers required a biopsy for confirmation.

“As a specialist treating lung cancer in a region of the country with some of the highest death rates, we welcome the widespread dissemination of studies like the Nelson Trial,” says Dr. Smith. 

“Studies like this lend greater credibility to our belief that patients enrolled in well-designed lung cancer early detection research programs based on high resolution Computed Tomography scanning will lead to generating conclusive proof of significant lung cancer mortality reduction.”

The NELSON trial will continue to examine the mortality impact of CT screening by comparing the number of lung cancer deaths that occur among the 7557 people getting scans with a similar number of people who do not. In the United States, the National Lung Screening Trial is also looking at mortality differences between those screened with a chest x-ray and those screened with a CT scan.

Both trials are expected to be completed within the next three to five years.