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Radiation Risks in Lung Cancer Screening ProgramsRadiation Risks in Lung Cancer Screening Programs: A Comparison With Nuclear Industry Workers and Atomic Bomb Survivors

Robert J. McCunney, MD, MPH; Jessica Li, BS
Author and Funding Information

From the Department of Biological Engineering (Dr McCunney and Ms Li), Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA; and Brigham and Women’s Hospital (Dr McCunney), Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA.

Correspondence to: Robert J. McCunney, MD, MPH, Department of Biological Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 77 Massachusetts Ave, Room 16-771, Cambridge, MA 02139; e-mail: mccunney@mit.edu


For editorial comment see page 439

Reproduction of this article is prohibited without written permission from the American College of Chest Physicians. See online for more details.


Chest. 2014;145(3):618-624. doi:10.1378/chest.13-1420
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The National Lung Cancer Screening Trial (NLST) demonstrated that screening with low-dose CT (LDCT) scan reduced lung cancer and overall mortality by 20% and 7%, respectively. The LDCT scanning involves an approximate 2-mSv dose, whereas full-chest CT scanning, the major diagnostic study used to follow up nodules, may involve a dose of 8 mSv. Radiation associated with CT scanning and other diagnostic studies to follow up nodules may present an independent risk of lung cancer. On the basis of the NLST, we estimated the incidence and prevalence of nodules detected in screening programs. We followed the Fleischner guidelines for follow-up of nodules to assess cumulative radiation exposure over 20- and 30-year periods. We then evaluated nuclear worker cohort studies and atomic bomb survivor studies to assess the risk of lung cancer from radiation associated with long-term lung cancer screening programs. The findings indicate that a 55-year-old lung screening participant may experience a cumulative radiation exposure of up to 280 mSv over a 20-year period and 420 mSv over 30 years. These exposures exceed those of nuclear workers and atomic bomb survivors. This assessment suggests that long-term (20-30 years) LDCT screening programs are associated with nontrivial cumulative radiation doses. Current lung cancer screening protocols, if conducted over 20- to 30-year periods, can independently increase the risk of lung cancer beyond cigarette smoking as a result of cumulative radiation exposure. Radiation exposures from LDCT screening and follow-up diagnostic procedures exceed lifetime radiation exposures among nuclear power workers and atomic bomb survivors.


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