New research suggests smokers diagnosed with pneumonia should also be screened for lung cancer as a means to reduce mortality. The findings suggest that heavy smokers diagnosed with pneumonia are at a greater risk of lung cancer – a cancer with only a 27 percent survival rate. Screening should be done by chest-computer tomography.
Lead researcher, Daniel Shepshelovich, said, “Lung cancer is truly aggressive. The only chance of recuperation is if it’s caught before it begins to cause any symptoms at all. The idea is to find the tumor well in advance. Previous studies have shown that a low-dose radiation CT scan conducted once a year on heavy smokers has the potential to lower lung cancer mortality rates. But this requires huge resources, and we still don’t know how it will perform in real-world conditions, outside of strictly conducted clinical trials. We want to develop a more realistic and cost-effective strategy targeting a particularly high-risk population.”
Dr. Shepshelovich and his team examined files of 381 admissions of heavy smokers to hospitals due to a diagnosis of pneumonia. Patient’s medical files were reviewed for smoking history, patients demographic, lung cancer risk factors, and location of pneumonia. Data was then crosschecked with Israel’s National Cancer Registry for new diagnoses of cancer.
Of the reviewed cases nine percent of patients were diagnosed with lung cancer within a year of pneumonia diagnosis. Incidences of lung cancer were higher among those with upper lobe pneumonia and lung cancer was commonly found in the area of the pneumonia.
Dr. Shepshelovich added, “We discovered that smokers hospitalized with pneumonia are diagnosed with cancer after the infection because often the cancer masquerades as pneumonia, physically obstructing the airway and creating such an infection. Considering that only 0.5-1% of smokers without pneumonia have a chance of being diagnosed with lung cancer every year, the fact that 9% of our study group developed lung cancer is alarming.”
The researchers suggest that chest-computer tomography should be used to scan heavy smokers admitted to the hospital based on a pneumonia diagnosis in order to reduce mortality related to lung cancer and to detect lung cancer earlier. “Only 15 percent of lung cancer cases are detected at an early stage. We want to increase that number in order to reduce mortality or, at the very least, extend lives,” Dr. Shepshelovich concluded.