November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month and it’s a time when new advancements in diagnostics and treatments are often highlighted.
Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer in both men and women in the U.S., with more than 131,000 lives lost annually.
As with all types of cancer, the importance of screening those at high-risk for lung cancer, catching it early, and administering prompt treatment is vital.
Under current recommendations by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, those at high-risk for lung cancer and who should undergo routine annual screenings include:
- Adults aged 50 to 80 years who have a 20-pack-year smoking history
- Smokers who have quit within the past 15 years
A person can undergo a lung cancer screening with a regular CT scan. But an emerging area that could help lead to more accurate diagnoses in the future is the addition of AI (Artificial Intelligence) technology. AI models can better pinpoint the presence of even the tiniest nodules in the lungs and allow for quicker intervention and treatment (such as minimally-invasive or robotic-assisted surgery).
According to CTVS board-certified thoracic surgeon and lung cancer specialist Dr. Rachel Medbery, “if AI is able to correctly detect lung nodules, it would be a huge win for screening and perhaps even streamline patient care.”
“There are current lung nodule software programs in use that read CT scans obtained in the ER to try and detect incidental lung nodules,” she says. “So in a way, this type of technology is already being used to an extent.”
A recent study in Nature discussed the value of implementing more AI in healthcare to interpret poor-quality data and gain improved diagnoses, especially those relying heavily on X-ray technology.
While the application for AI in diagnosing lung cancer is extremely promising, it is still being fine-tuned.
CTVS board-certified thoracic surgeon and lung cancer specialists Dr. Matthew Gaudet predicts that, “as lung cancer screening programs continue to grow worldwide, adding AI to physicians’ clinical assessment of patients and their low-dose screening CT scans is going to assist with early detection, accurate diagnosis, streamlined treatment planning, and improved survival.”
“AI will undoubtedly help improve the overall dismal survival of lung cancer, which is still the most lethal cancer worldwide for both men and women,” says Dr. Gaudet.
Although smoking poses the greatest risk for lung cancer, other circumstances can contribute to it also, such as exposure to radon, air pollution and certain genetic factors, according to the American Cancer Society.