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This morning the National Cancer Institute (NCI) released the initial results of the National Lung Screening Trial, a large-scale, NCI-sponsored test of screening methods to reduce deaths from lung cancer by detecting cancers at earlier, more treatable stages.

More than 53,000 people at high risk of developing lung cancer were screened by either chest X-ray or low-dose spiral CT scans.  The study found twenty percent fewer lung cancer deaths among trial participants screened with low-dose spiral-CT.

These findings are an important discovery in the early detection of lung cancer, which is the leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women, nationally and globally. An estimated 222,529 Americans will be diagnosed this year alone, and an estimated 157,300 will die. Tobacco use is the most important risk factor for lung cancer, but lung cancer also strikes some individuals who have never smoked.

In his official announcement, NCI Director Harold Varmus, M.D., stated “This large and well-designed study used rigorous scientific methods to test ways to prevent death from lung cancer by screening patients at especially high risk.”

We at the Prevent Cancer Foundation are delighted by this news, as we have long hoped that an effective method for early detection of this leading cancer killer would be identified.  Spiral CT is relatively inexpensive and easy and can be done by holding your breath for a matter of seconds.  When we have the necessary infrastructure, policies and resources in place to screen for lung cancer as part of routine preventive measures, the impact on public health will be enormous.

Spiral CT has implications beyond detection of lung cancer.  It can also be used to assess response to new therapies for the disease, and for seven years, the Prevent Cancer Foundation has sponsored a workshop that explores opportunities to accelerate progress in developing new ways to treat early-stage lung cancer more effectively.  The results released today will be translated into many more patients being diagnosed at early stages of the disease, and with improved therapies, the number of patients surviving more than five years may be vastly increased.

James L. Mulshine, M.D., Prevent Cancer Foundation Board Member and Associate Provost for Research and Vice President for Research at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, IL said: “With this positive trial result, we have the opportunity to realize the greatest single reduction of cancer mortality in the history of the war on cancer.”

For an organization that for twenty-five years has focused its energies and programs on prevention and early-detection of cancer, November 4, 2010 will go down as one of the most significant milestones in the fight against a disease that takes more lives than breast, prostate, colorectal and pancreatic cancers combined.