Asbestos-Induced Cancers with CT Scans
Perhaps no group of people has been more impacted by asbestos disease than the Asbestos Workers – insulators who applied asbestos-containing insulation products from the 1920’s through the 1970’s. Current estimates suggest that 15% of deaths among insulators are caused by mesothelioma and another 30% are caused by lung cancer. These rates are staggeringly high.
As a result, the leadership of the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers (formerly known as the Asbestos Workers’ Union) has looked for innovative ways to assist its members and their families affected by these diseases. (See our Section on Tissue Banks)
We were asked by the leadership of the International Union to investigate a screening protocol for the early detection of mesothelioma and lung cancer using CT scans. CT scans are non-invasive, sensitive tests -- much more sensitive than chest x-rays -- capable of detecting nodules at very small sizes. A lung nodule is a relatively hard, roughly spherical abnormal structure. If a nodule is not growing, it is less likely to be cancerous. Since cancer tissue is “new tissue,” nodules that are growing in size are more of a concern. The early detection of growing nodules - - when they are still small - - is seen by some to be at the core of advanced survival. CT scans can detect nodules as small as a “bb” or the tip of a pencil. This makes CT scans an ideal test to be used in a screening.
Under a lung cancer screening program, an individual would undergo what is called a “baseline” CT scan, followed by a “yearly repeat” CT scan.
Some argue that yearly CT scans may expose an individual to excessive amounts of radiation. But, the CT scans for screening purposes are referred to as “low-dose” radiation scans.
Screening has been used effectively with breast cancer and prostate cancer based on the principle that early diagnosis means early treatment, and hopefully better results. Many prominent researchers believe that CT-scan screening could be effective for the same reasons with lung cancer and even mesothelioma.
Surgery remains an option to effectively treat some cases of lung cancer or mesothelioma. However, when a person is diagnosed with cancer as a result of symptoms, the cancer is usually advanced in size and many times has spread to other organs of the body. If a cancer can be detected when it is smaller, and before it has spread, treatment options are often more effective.
Data shows that only about 15% of people diagnosed with lung cancer are still alive after 5 years.
On the other hand, an ongoing study of 40,000 participants has shown that screening and detecting lung cancer when the tumor is still very small has a significant impact on survival.
The International Early Lung Cancer Action Project (IELCAP) reported that over 90% of lung cancer patients in their screening study are surviving 10 years or more after diagnosis. Early detection when a tumor is still very small has been seen by them as an important element for longer survival.
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