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"Screening detects lung cancer earlier, benefits unclear"


Source: CBC.CA

Published: 11 Aug 2022

Category: Diagnostic Test

Rating: (3½ stars)

what they said (Hover the mouse cursor over underlined words for more info)

A scan is helping doctors to identify lung cancer earlier but it may cause needless anxiety for some, a cancer prevention specialist says.

An international clinical trial aims to determine whether giving regular CT scans to smokers and ex-smokers picks up lung cancer tumours earlier, when the disease may be more curable.

It's too soon to say that screening healthy people with spiral CT scans can actually save lives because experts don't know whether small tumours in the lung will go on to become dangerous.

"We may be able to pick them up at earlier stages," said Dr. Barnett Kramer of the National Institutes of Health in Rockville, Md. "But that is not the same as actually benefiting patients. It's certainly not proof that you'll decrease their risk of dying of lung cancer."

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how did it rate? (more information)

Criteria Rating
Total Score 6 of 9
Availability of Test Not Satisfactory
Novelty of Test Satisfactory
Diagnostic Options Not Satisfactory
Disease Mongering Satisfactory
Evidence Satisfactory
Quantification of Diagnostic Accuracy/Benefits Satisfactory
Costs of Testing Not Satisfactory
Harms of Testing Satisfactory
Sources of Information Satisfactory
Relies on Press Release Not Applicable

what we said (Hover the mouse cursor over underlined words for more info)

This article aims to report on an ongoing international clinical trial about the benefits of regular CT scans to smokers and ex-smokers in early detection of lung cancer. The story does not exaggerate the benefits of the treatment, and advises the reader of the potential for false positives. These are both very good caveats in any story about the use of diagnostic testing.

At the same time, the journalist could have covered, in a more detailed fashion, the costs and availability of the treatment, type of the study, inclusion criteria, follow-up period and could have attempted to garner some independent corroboration to these findings.

Also, background information about prevalence, incidence, survival and population at risk of lung cancer need to be included.

One thing that is suspicious about this story is the anecdote related to the patient who apparently had a CT scan and the fact she believes it saved her life and can thank the test, when nothing in the story supports this kind of conclusion. Certainly, there is no problem using anecdotes in health stories, as long as they don't mislead the readers to misunderstand the effectiveness of the treatment or diagnostic test.

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