Cancer Screenings Lead to Anxiety Over False Alarms
General guidelines for lung cancer screening may include low-dose CT scans in people at increased risk for the disease—people over the age of 55 who have smoked the equivalent of at least two packs of cigarettes a day for 15 years, for example. Although there's little doubt that screening for lung cancer saves lives, these tests often result in false alarms, leading to unnecessary anxiety and expensive, invasive follow-up testing.
In a study from the Veterans Administration (VA) recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine, lung cancer screening was offered at no cost to 4,246 patients, about half of whom declined the test. Of those who received the test, lung nodules requiring additional testing were identified in 55 percent of patients. However, overall, just 31 cases of lung cancer were identified and only about 20 of these were detected at an early, treatable stage.
Other studies have shown that low-dose CT scans may be used too often in people who are not at increased risk for lung cancer. In these patients, the drawbacks of screening—anxiety caused by false positive results and invasive follow-up procedures—are even higher.
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