Melbourne, June 20: Thousands of Australian smokers will be subjected to regular chest scans in an attempt to uncover cancer at the earliest possible stage, it was announced on Tuesday.
Based on the trial results, the Royal Melbourne Hospital would then inform policy-makers on whether a national screening program for lung cancer, that kills over 8,000 Australians each year, was viable or not, according to reports.
People with the highest risk of developing lung cancer, mostly heavy smokers older than 55, would be included in the trial whereby they would undergo regular computer topography (CT) scans.
Heather Allen, chief executive of the Lung Foundation Australia, said screening presented the best opportunity to reduce lung cancer deaths.
"There are an urgent need and an important opportunity for the government to rapidly implement an appropriate screening program in Australia that works within our healthcare setting," Allen told the media on Tuesday.
Fewer than 14 percent of the 10,000 Australians diagnosed with lung cancer every year remains alive five years after their diagnosis.
"The cure rate is very low because 75 percent of lung cancers have already spread by the time they are detected," said Lou Irving, an associate professor at the Royal Melbourne.
This was partly because the lungs do not have pain receptors, so cancer grows and spreads quietly and quickly before one even realizes, the researcher said.
"If you can trace it when it is the size of a peanut there is then the chance to use surgery, which, in very early disease, has a cure rate of 85 percent," Irving said.
The Cancer Council of Victoria has welcomed the research.