Can Chest X Ray Detect Cancer

Brent Mccoy
• Monday, 11 January, 2021
• 8 min read

From the WebMD Archives April 8, 2005 -- When the news that Peter Jennings had lung cancer hit earlier this week, many WebMD users asked why doctors don't use chest X-rays to diagnose lung cancer at an early stage, when it's more treatable. WebMD turned to cancer expert Harold Burstein, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston, for the answer.

cancer ray chest commons lung wikimedia
(Source: commons.wikimedia.org)


The vast majority of lung cancer cases are caused by smoking, ” Burstein tells WebMD. Chest X-rays are inadequate for diagnosing lung cancers at an early stage, when they are more treatable.

The hope was that these CT scans would be able to find smaller, earlier cancers without leading to further unnecessary tests. “A variety of recent studies in the U.S. and Japan have suggested that high-resolution CT scans can often detect lung cancers.

However, he explains that these were small, early studies that were not able to answer the questions of whether CT scans can actually save lives. The report by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the U.S. Preventive Health Services Task Force says evidence that chest X-rays, CT scans, and other forms of screening can save lives is poor.

Only one of every 500 chest X-rays and one out of every 100 chest computerized tomography (CT) scans will show pulmonary nodules. About half the people who smoke and are over age 50 years will have nodules, many of them being noncancerous, on a CT scan of their chest.

It can show the size, shape, position, and depth of any lung tumor. A CT scan test can also be used to look for the spread of lung cancer in the adrenal glands, liver, brain, and other organs.

thoracic spine ray views xray chest above pneumo
(Source: www.two-views.com)

For example, if cancer has spread to the bones, it might be an abnormal increase in the levels of calcium and alkaline phosphatase. A study published in the European Respiratory Journal in July 2020 shows that lung cancer could be detected around three months earlier using a biomarker blood test and CT scanning in high-risk patients.

Chest X-rays produce images of your heart, lungs, blood vessels, airways, and the bones of your chest and spine. The image helps your doctor determine whether you have heart problems, a collapsed lung, pneumonia, broken ribs, emphysema, cancer or any of several other conditions.

You may be asked to move into different positions in order to take views from both the front and the side of your chest. During the front view, you stand against the plate, hold your arms up or to the sides and roll your shoulders forward.

In addition, many of the symptoms of lung cancer, such as shortness of breath or fatigue, are non-specific and easily attributed to things like age or obesity. There are surprisingly few recent studies looking at the actual incidence of missed diagnoses of lung cancer, but the research that has been done is sobering.

Lung biopsy, involving the extraction of suspicious tissues by needle or other methods, is ordered if a CT scan suggests cancer. Positron emission tomography (PET) scans are less commonly used for the initial diagnosis of lung cancer and are considered more useful for the staging of the disease.

chest ray dog dogs xrays normal nasal discharge cats rays veterinary radiology ultrasound
(Source: www.senecafallsvet.com)

A study published in JAVA involving 150,000 people at high risk of lung cancer reported that four years of annual chest X-rays did nothing to alter the death rate in the group. It is in this population of adults that screening can significantly reduce the risk of advanced malignancy and premature death.

According to interim guidance from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USP STF), annual low-dose chest CT scans are recommended if you meet all the following criteria: Used according to these guidelines, CT screening could reduce the lung cancer death rate by 20% in the United States.

Although the consensus among health officials is that the risks of annual CT screening in other groups outweigh the benefits, a 2019 study in the Journal of Thoracic Oncology suggests otherwise. According to the researchers, low-dose CT screening in non-smokers detected a significant number of cancers in the early stages that would have otherwise been missed.

As reassuring as a “normal” result may seem, don't allow it to give you a false sense of security if the cause of persistent symptoms remains unknown or if the diagnosis you were given can 't explain them.

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