Lung cancer is an extremely serious disease. When given this diagnosis, patients and their families have many questions. How big is my tumor? Is my tumor fast or slow growing? What treatment is available? Some of the answers to these questions may take additional investigation. The keys to the best outcome for patients involves the cell type of the cancer, whether it has spread, and if there is a surgical option in the treatment. It is generally found that if a lung cancer can be fully removed and there is no distant spread, the patient will have the best outcome.
Unfortunately, once the cancer is removed, a period of follow up is needed to watch for recurrence. Most patients are very anxious about this possibility, and want to be examined often within the first five years following surgical removal. This anxiety, along with no clear-cut guidance about how often these patients need repeat studies, especially when they have no symptoms, has led to a hodgepodge of routines, usually based on the physician’s experience. This experience can sometimes be clouded by cases that did not turn out well and recurrence was found early.
Subjecting patients to untimely tests, such as CT scans, can be as bad as doing nothing at all. A recent study showed that CT scanning a patient every three months did not improve survival over an annual CT scan. The importance here is that we should not be subjecting patients to needless radiation, unless they have symptoms.