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January 11, 2013

Lung cancer scans backed for older, heavy smokers

(Continued)

ATLANTA —

Some of the most influential guidelines come from a government-appointed panel — the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force — but it hasn't considered lung cancer screening since 2004, when it said there wasn't enough evidence to recommend for or against it. An update is in the works now.

The Cancer Society used to recommend screening with chest X-rays but withdrew that advice in 1980 after studies showed they weren't saving lives. Since then, the CT scans have come into wider use, and several medical groups backed limited screening with them.

Many private companies also market CT scans directly to the public, including for some who are at lower risk for lung cancer than the people in major studies have been.

WellStar Health System, a network of hospitals and private doctors in suburban Atlanta, has screened nearly 900 people since 2008. Less than 3 percent were referred for lung biopsies because of suspicious findings, and of those, 70 percent turned out to have lung cancer, said screening coordinator Vickie Beckler.

The system generally follows the advice of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, a group of top cancer centers, but eligibility for scans is "a very fluid area" that's being refined, she said. Patients younger than 50 need a doctor's referral for a scan, but if they want one and have major risk factors, "it should be their prerogative to have access to screening as long as they understand the risks and benefits involved and come to that decision with their physician," she said.

Kathy DeJoseph, 62, of suburban Atlanta, is glad she was screened as part of a study at WellStar. Several years of scans found nothing but last year, one detected cancer.

"I'd have been dead had I not had that scan," she said. "I was very, very lucky."

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