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Lung cancer screenings could be risky

Medicare announced in February that it will start providing yearly lung cancer screenings for some long-term smokers. However, Florida residents should be aware that the tests could lead to risky follow-ups.

Patients who qualify for the complimentary annual spiral CT scan are those aged 55 to 77 years old and who smoked an average of a pack of cigarettes every day for at least 30 years. This decision follows a 2011 study that found a 20 percent reduction in lung cancer fatalities with the screening technique. The head radiologist for lung and cancer screenings at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York says that this amounts to thousands of lives saved every year.

However, other physicians are concerned that lung cancer screenings are not the best option for every patient. Although spiral CT scans can detect cancers very early, they can also detect abnormal growths that are not cancerous or that do not pose a risk. A professor at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College says that some cancers spread slowly and do not become dangerous.

In the 2011 study, almost 25 percent of the participants were tested several times and the results showed irregular growths that were not cancerous. The false positives led to follow-up tests such as lung biopsies that in many cases can put patients at risk. This type of biopsy involves a needle being inserted into the lung, and it can create problems such as lung collapse. Further testing may also mean that the patients are exposed to radiation and the risk of complications.

While some doctors may hesitate to order lung cancer screenings out of concern for the risks to their patients, others may order unnecessary procedures leading to an injury to a patient. If it is determined that the injury was caused by a failure to exercise the appropriate standard of care, there may be a basis for a medical malpractice action.

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