Lung Cancer

Lung Cancer

Lung cancer develops when cells grow out of control in a person’s lungs, either just on one side or on both.  Lung cancer is the most lethal cancer in the world but it often develops slowly, possibly taking several years before it spreads.  In the very early stages, lung cancer can be curable but most of the time early lung cancer does not cause symptoms and is therefore “invisible”.  The reasons that symptoms might occur so late include:

  • the tumours grow slowly
  • the lungs don’t feel pain
  • the lungs are large, much larger than early cancers

As a result, lung cancer has often spread outside the lung by the time it causes symptoms and is diagnosed.  If this happens then it is not curable. 

Lung Cancer Screening

Research from America over the past few years has shown that screening people who are at high risk for lung cancer, using CT scans, can save lives.

CT scans can detect early stage lung cancers before they have spread so that treatment with surgery can be offered to cure it.  This means that people can have treatment much earlier with a better chance of success.

St Vincent’s Hospital is working with other hospitals around Australia and overseas to improve ways to diagnose lung cancer early on and help people have a chance for successful treatment.

In the News

Daily Telegraph article June 2018

Sunday Telegraph article February 2019

 Channel 9 News feature:

Low Dose CT Scan

Although we are surrounded by natural radiation all the time, too much radiation (for example from many x-rays and CT scans) could possibly be harmful.  A “normal” chest CT gives a radiation dose about one and a half times the natural radiation dose that people are exposed to each year, OK if the scan is necessary.  Screening CT scans might need to be done every 1-2 years, so it is better to keep the dose lower.

Newer technology allows us the keep the radiation from a low dose CT scan as much as 40 times less than a “normal” CT scan, about the same as a chest X-ray, which means that doctors can safely offer these scans for screening.  Low dose CT scans can definitely detect and early stage small lung cancer.

International Lung Screen Trial (ILST)

The ILST is a big international trial involving centres in Brisbane (the lead centre), Melbourne and Perth as well as at St Vincent’s aiming to recruit more than 2000 participants in Australia (and 4000 overall including centres overseas).  The study aims to understand the best way to choose high-risk people to screen for lung cancer and the best way of following up with CT scans later on.