While the results of a 2011 study involving lung cancer screening tests using CT scans helped influence Medicare to offer annual screenings for some smokers, many physicians worry that there are also negatives to this decision. The study showed that lung cancer deaths could be lowered by 20 percent with screenings for long-term smokers between the ages of 55 and 77. Physicians do not dispute that this could benefit people, but some say there are downsides that must be considered too.
Lung cancer reportedly kills more people than colon, prostate and breast cancers combined, and these screening programs could save thousands of lives annually. The screening method used is powerful enough to detect cancer very early, but this means scans could also reveal non-life threatening and non-cancerous things that could create problems once they are detected. For example, a scan could reveal a non-cancerous growth in the lung that could lead to risky and ultimately unnecessary procedures being performed.
Experts who reviewed the study agreed that the possible negative consequences were outweighed by the benefits, but there are some concerns that the study conditions cannot be replicated everywhere. All participants in the study received clear and detailed information about the risks beforehand, and the radiologists reading the test results were all adept at using CT scans to detect lung cancer.
CT scans come with risks because of false positives, and many other procedures needed to make a diagnosis may also have risks attached based on the procedure and one's condition. Negligence could occur if a doctor failed to exercise the accepted standard of care and ordered unnecessary procedures that resulted in an injury to a patient.
Source: NPR, "Why Some Doctors Hesitate To Screen Smokers For Lung Cancer", Anders Kelto, 04/13/2015