Is early diagnosis important?

The American Cancer Society has reported that the five-year survival rates for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) are significantly higher for those diagnosed at an early stage. It is a seemingly simple and obvious observation but one complicated by the fact that for lung cancer there are no accepted early detection modalities (procedures) that have been shown to improve survival rates and overall prognosis for the number one cause of cancer deaths in men and women.

Recent research breakthroughs may be changing that landscape (See National Lung Screening Trial.) Nonetheless, an increased focus on developing early detection modalities coupled with a major increase in funding for lung cancer research is a critical component to raising the overall survival rate and prognosis for lung cancer.

That early detection by way of an accepted, safe method is critical to reducing deaths from lung cancer is best exemplified by the success of other screening programs for other cancers. These include mammograms for breast cancer; Pap smears for cervical cancer; PSA tests and physical examinations for prostate cancer; and, colonoscopies for colon cancer. Played out against the backdrop of the introduction and common use of these screening programs as part of a regular health program (coupled with better treatment) we have seen a significant reduction in deaths from these cancers.