Scientists are looking for more efficient ways of detecting lung cancer, after recent research showed that 96 per cent of the nodules in the lungs that are revealed by CT scans are not cancerous.
CT scans can save lives and are certainly a viable way of detecting lung cancer. However, recent evidence has shown that they might not be the most effective devices for diagnostics in this area. As a result, scientists have been looking for more effective ways to make a diagnosis.
One of the most popular methods that has been highlighted by researchers is using a CT-guided transthoracic fine needle aspiration. New research that has been presented in the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer's (IASLC) Journal of Thoracic Oncology has found that this highly sensitive technique might be the best way to diagnose pulmonary nodules.
This is based on evidence from 170 patients which was collected between January 2002 and December 2004. The participants all had initial benign results, however, 18 of the patients who had the fine needle aspiration (FNA) turned out to have cancer. This meant that the FNA biopsy presented a false negative. The authors of the study explain that "false negatives tended to occur in larger lesions".
They "speculate that the portion of the lesion with malignant cells was likely part of a larger consolidation, making it difficult to distinguish the primary lesion from surrounding atelectasis or inflammation".
There are several other reasons for false negatives, many of which highlight the need for further research into this area. Imaging adjustments that were made for each needle pass during the biopsy could be another reason, as well as the expertise of the radiologist using the technique. "While both radiologists were experienced with CT FNA, the operator with the lower incidence of false negatives had more years of experience with the procedure and performed more biopsies overall."
The researchers concluded that patients with benign FNA biopsies should have repeat imaging for at least two years following the procedure to observe if there is any growth. Despite that, FNA seems to be a way patients can avoid unnecessary surgery and still achieve a diagnosis.