Lung cancer CT screening produces false positives and isn’t ready for prime time

Controversy continues to swirl over chest CT scans to screen for lung cancer.

MedPage Today reports on a recent study that continues to suggest that it isn’t ready for general use yet.  Not surprisingly, CT scans had more false positives than traditional chest x-rays when used to look for pulmonary masses.

The probability of a false positive was 21 percent after one scan, and 33 percent after two. This is a huge number, and can lead to unnecessary patient anxiety, and worse, invasive testing such as lung biopsies for conditions that eventually turn out to be benign.  These follow-up tests have real risks, such as bleeding, pneumothoraces, and infection.

This not only corroborates the lack of current evidence suggesting any mortality benefit to the early detection of lung cancer, but shows that indeed, “there is a small, but real potential for harm from screening.”