We screen for breast cancer and colon cancer, among others. The scientific consensus: These screenings help detect disease and prevent it from spreading. But one Seattle doctor found that lung cancer screening alone may not be enough to motivate smokers to quit.
Dr. Steven Zeliadt and his colleagues wanted to get a sense of patients’ attitudes and perceptions of smoking. They wanted to know how primary-care doctors can bring up the topic of screening and talk about quitting smoking. So the researchers recruited 37 current longtime smokers around the country and offered them lung cancer screenings. After the test, participants were asked what their habit means to their health.
“We found that patients were interpreting the results in all kinds of different ways that were not very accurate,” Zeliadt said.
Zeliadt is a researcher at the VA Puget Sound Health System and a professor at the University of Washington School of Public Health. He said some participants believed the screenings alone would protect them from dying of lung cancer.
Even when a noncancerous nodule was found, participants took home a different message. Zeliadt said some patients said things like, "'Well that meant I’ve been saved. Screening has saved my life because it found this thing early and I’m so happy that I don’t have to treat it right away; I can just watch it.' The motivation for quitting smoking goes out the window.”
It would be like a patient with a family history of high cholesterol who goes in for screening, finds out things are OK for now, and then thinks there’s no need to exercise.
Zeliadt would like to see more counseling to help smokers kick the habit. He’s planning to do more research and study how providers can use these screening results as an opportunity for smoking cessation.
Zeliadt's study was published in this month's Journal of the American Medical Association-Internal Medicine.
Find out more about smoking cessation at smokefree.gov.