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New York Times Highlights Study on Unintended Consequences Regarding Lung Cancer Screening and Veterans' beliefs about Smoking Cessation

September 8, 2015

An article in The New York Times (September 7, 2015) discusses recent findings from a study to learn how the availability of lung cancer screening influences motivations among current smokers regarding cessation. The VHA Lung Cancer Screening Clinical Demonstration Project is a pilot study implementing a primary care-based lung cancer screening clinical reminder at seven VA medical centers. Veterans (n=37) were approached within a few days of being offered screening to participate in two telephone interviews, one shortly after being offered screening, and the second after receiving their results. Findings show that current smokers attached exaggerated personal benefits to lung cancer screening. Some of the misperceptions included: Screening was valuable because everyone screened would be protected, and that screening reduces the likelihood of needing cancer treatment (e.g., screening could cure cancer if the cancer was found early enough). Lead author, HSR&D researcher Steven Zeliadt, PhD, MPH, stated, "They (current smokers) engaged in magical thinking that now there's this wonderful, painless external test that can save lives." As a result of these findings, study investigators suggest that healthcare professionals de-emphasize the clinical aspects of screening results and focus on the emotional reactions smokers have to undergoing screening by developing messages to address the different types of misperceptions associated with screening.

Zeliadt S, Heffner J, Savre G, et al. Attitudes and perceptions about smoking cessation in the context of lung cancer screening. JAMA Internal Medicine. 2015;175(9):1530-1537.