Lung cancer tests performed too often, study shows

Posted April 2, 2012

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Primary care physicians frequently order lung cancer screening tests for asymptomatic patients even though expert groups do not recommend such screening, a study said.

Fifty-seven percent of doctors ordered at least one lung cancer screening in the past year for asymptomatic patients, according to the study published in the March/April issue of Annals of Family Medicine. The tests doctors reported using were chest radiograph, sputum cytology and low-dose spiral computed tomography. Thirty-eight percent of doctors said they did not order any of those tests in the past year (link).

Physicians were more likely to have screened for the condition if they believed expert groups recommend testing asymptomatic patients, graduated from medical school 20 to 29 years ago and if patients asked about lung cancer screening, data show.

Researchers surveyed 962 practicing primary care doctors 75 and younger between September 2006 and May 2007. The physicians were family doctors, general practitioners and internists.

Expert medical organizations, including the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, do not recommend screening asymptomatic patients for lung cancer due to a lack of evidence that such screenings lower mortality rates, the study says.

The study authors recommend improving education for primary care doctors and patients on current guidelines for lung cancer screening and the potential benefits and harms of such testing.

Note: This item originally appeared at

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