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Quick Questionnaire Identifies People at High Risk for Lung Cancer


A quick questionnaire administered in a doctor’s office can identify people who are at high risk for lung cancer. Results of the study, which were published in the November issue of the Journal of Thoracic Oncology, indicate that the questionnaire is useful in selecting which individuals need to be screened for lung cancer and which ones may avoid it.

Lung cancer is a disease that forms in the tissues of the lungs, and especially in the cells that line the air passages. The National Cancer Institute reports that an estimated 219,440 new cases of lung cancer will be diagnosed in 2009, and that 159,390 people will die of the disease. Most people who have lung cancer smoke or used to smoke, although about 10 percent of lung cancer patients never smoked.

The current study is a report on the five-year follow-up of a lung cancer screening program that was initiated in 2001. A total of 1,256 patients completed questionnaires in their doctors’ office. The questionnaire asked about lung cancer risk factors, including family history, work environment, exposure to chemicals, and smoking history. Based on their responses, 430 of these individuals were deemed to be at high risk for lung cancer. The National Cancer Institute lists known environmental risks for lung cancer to include secondhand tobacco smoke, radon, and asbestos.

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The 430 patients then underwent spirometry, and 88 of 126 patients were found to have airflow obstruction. The 88 patients then agreed to participate in lung cancer screening, which included chest radiographs, chest computed tomography scan, and sputum cytology examination.

Among the group of high-risk patients who had airflow obstruction, eight were found to have lung cancer. In a group of 304 patients who had normal airflow, ten were found to have cancer. Overall, 18 cases of lung cancer were discovered in 430 (4.2%) patients identified to be at risk by using a simple questionnaire. The researchers hope further studies will prove this simple questionnaire can help select patients who need screening for lung cancer.


Bechtel JJ et al. Journal of Thoracic Oncology 2009 Nov; 4(11): 1347-51
National Cancer Institute