Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among men and women and researchers have launched a new study to figure out how to identify and treat the disease before it’s too late.

The pilot study will try to identify smokers and ex-smokers who are most at risk for lung cancer and screen them annually using low-dose CT scans over a three year period.

“Unfortunately, by the time people start to experience symptoms for lung cancer, it is often too late,” said Dr. Alain Tremblay, the Calgary-based principal investigator in the study. “Screening has the potential to reduce the number of deaths, but the challenge is to determine who is most at risk.”

Scientists say that between 85 and 90 percent of all lung cancers occur in current smokers or ex-smokers and that the number of cases among ex-smokers is rising as more people kick the habit.

Researchers will take a look at a number of factors to determine a person’s risk of developing lung cancer including:

  • Smoking history
  • Family history of cancer
  • Educational level
  • Demographic information
  • Ethnic group

Researchers say screening is more likely to benefit those in the study if their risk meets a set minimum threshold based on an assessment of those factors.

“We want to create a screening program that will enable us to catch the disease at its early stages, when it’s potentially curable,” said Dr. Eric Bédard, AHS Edmonton Zone section head for thoracic surgery. “Identifying those most at risk for lung cancer is one of the key tasks ahead of us. We don’t want to expose Albertans at no or low risk to unnecessary diagnostic testing. This research is helping us to refine that criteria.”

Scientists started recruiting participants for the study earlier this year and so far, screening found one patient with an early stage lung cancer called adenocarcinoma, which was successfully removed with surgery.

“We know the importance of being able to detect cancer at an early stage and have committed to raise $2.5 million for this pilot research project so we can implement a sustainable program in Alberta,” said Myka Osinchuk, CEO of the Alberta Cancer Foundation.  “The fact these researchers have already detected lung cancer this early into the project shows the immediate impact this investment is having on Alberta cancer patients.”

The study will also serve to determine the actual cost of health care recourses needed to create a province-wide cancer screening program.

Researchers are looking to enroll a total of 800 smokers and ex-smokers between the ages of 55 and 80 in the study.

The study is funded by the Alberta Cancer Foundation and officials say currently there are no other jurisdictions in the country that offer a systematic lung cancer screening program.

To find out more download a copy of the screening questionnaire HERE or call the study office at 403-210-6862 or 1-844-210-6862.