Lung cancer screenings do not cause undue stress

Lung cancer

An in-depth study of the participants anxiety levels in  the major lung cancer screening trial, originally conducted by experts at the University of Liverpool, has found that lung cancer screening does not cause the participants the undue stress sometimes associated with medical tests.

The UK Lung Cancer Screening Trial (UKLS) was undertaken in partnership with Liverpool Heart & Chest Hospital, Papworth Hospital and the Royal Brompton & Harefield Hospital with the aim of highlighting the need for a screening programme to help benefit people who are at risk of developing lung cancer.

The Chief Investigator of the UKLS trial is Professor John Field, who is based in the University’s Institute of Translational Medicine.

Psychosocial outcomes

The anxiety or psychosocial studies associated with UKLS were trial , led by Dr Kate Brain at Cardiff University. Dr Brain’s team looked at long-term psychosocial outcomes of CT screening for lung cancer and found that it did not cause unnecessary anxiety, even though fear and stigma can sometimes be barriers to participation in screening.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related mortality in the UK, killing almost 40,000 people per year. Additionally, around three quarters of patients are diagnosed at a late stage when fewer treatment options are available. With early detection of lung cancer about seven out of ten patients survive for a year or more.

The UK Lung cancer screening trial (UKLS) recruited over 4,000 men and women, aged 50-75, at high risk of lung cancer. This group was randomised into two groups: one of which received a CT screen and one that didn’t.

No undue stress

Participants in both groups were assessed two weeks into the study and again two years later by researchers from Cardiff. To assess people’s emotional responses to CT lung screening, standard measures of lung cancer distress, anxiety, depression and satisfaction were used.

The research showed that lung cancer screening did not cause undue worry when people were followed up over the two year period. Participants who needed to have a repeat scan reported slightly higher cancer distress, but this was temporary.

It also found, regardless of group allocation, cancer distress was higher in women, participants under 65, current smokers and those with lung cancer experience.

No long-term negative effect

Dr Kate Brain from Cardiff University said: “Sometimes, fear of medical procedures and the results they might bring can prevent people from seeking life-saving tests. However, what our trial shows is that CT lung cancer screening actually has no long-term negative psychosocial impact on patients, making it an excellent tool for catching lung cancer earlier when there is a better chance of survival.”

Professor John Field, Clinical Professor of Molecular Oncology and the Chief Investigator of the UKLS trial, said: “The UKLS trial successfully demonstrated that we have a way to screen for lung cancer in high risk individuals in the UK.

“This further research into the psychosocial impact of screenings will further contribute to clinical and policy decisions regarding the successful implementation of potential future low-dose CT lung screening for high-risk individuals.”

The paper, entitled ‘Long-term psychosocial outcomes of low-dose CT screening: results of the UK Lung Cancer Screening randomized controlled trial’,  is published in Thorax and can be found here.

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