Lung Cancer CT scan Screening Unveils Hidden Health Risks

Lung Cancer Screening Unveils Hidden Health Risks


Screening for lung cancer can detect other health issues, as well.

The reason is because the low-dose CT scans used for screening cover the lower neck down to the upper abdomen, revealing far more anatomy than simply the lungs.

In fact, lung cancer screening can provide information on three of the top 10 causes of death worldwide: ischemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and, of course, lung cancer.

With lung cancer screening, “we are basically targeting many birds with one low-dose stone,” explained Jelena Spasic MD, PhD, at the European Lung Cancer Congress (ELCC) 2024.

Dr. Spasic, a medical oncologist at the Institute for Oncology and Radiology of Serbia in Belgrade, was the discussant on a study that gave an indication on just how useful screening can be for other diseases.

The study, dubbed 4-IN-THE-LUNG-RUN trial (4ITLR), is an ongoing prospective trial in six European countries that is using lung cancer screening scans to also look for coronary artery calcifications, a marker of atherosclerosis.

Usually, coronary calcifications are considered incidental findings on lung cancer screenings and reported to subjects’ physicians for heart disease risk assessment.

The difference in 4ITLR is that investigators are actively looking for the lesions and quantifying the extent of calcifications.

It’s made possible by the artificial intelligence-based software being used to read the scans. In addition to generating reports on lung nodules, it also automatically calculates an Agatston score, a quantification of the degree of coronary artery calcification for each subject.

At the meeting, which was organized by the European Society for Clinical Oncology, 4ITLR investigator Daiwei Han, MD, PhD, a research associate at the Institute for Diagnostic Accuracy in Groningen, the Netherlands, reported outcomes in the first 2487 of the 24,000 planned subjects.

To be eligible for screening, participants had to be 60-79 years old and either current smokers, past smokers who had quit within 10 years, or people with a 35 or more pack-year history. The median age in the study was 68.1 years.

Overall, 53% of subjects had Agatston scores of 100 or more, indicating the need for treatment to prevent active coronary artery disease, Dr. Han said.

Fifteen percent were at high risk for heart disease with scores of 400-999, indicating extensive coronary artery calcification, and 16.2% were at very high risk, with scores of 1000 or higher. The information is being shared with participants’ physicians.

The risk of heart disease was far higher in men, who made up 56% of the study population. While women had a median Agatston score of 61, the median score for men was 211.1.

The findings illustrate the potential of dedicated cardiovascular screening within lung cancer screening programs, Dr. Han said, noting that 4ITLR will also incorporate COPD risk assessment.

The study also shows the increased impact lung cancer screening programs could have if greater use were made of the CT images to look for other diseases, Dr. Spasic said.

4ITLR is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Program. Dr. Spasic and Dr. Han didn’t have any relevant disclosures.