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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Washington, VA Study Finds Lung Screening May Not Motivate Smokers to Quit

Lung cancer screening may actually lower the motivation of many smokers to quit using tobacco, according to a study led by Dr. Steven Zeliadt, research associate professor of health services with the University of Washington School of Public Health.

Steven Zeliadt
[Photo: Dr. Steven Zeliadt]

Dr. Zeliadt, a health economist at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System, and colleagues surveyed smokers who were offered lung cancer screening by their primary care physician at VA medical centers. Results were published in the September issue of JAMA Internal Medicine.

Many of the long-term smokers who were interviewed greatly overestimated the value of screening and nearly all perceived that screening was directly benefiting them, offering protection from lung cancer. Some individuals believed that negative tests were signs they were “the lucky ones who will avoid the harms of smoking,” the study says.

Even those patients with indeterminate nodule findings common with screening felt relief that something had been caught early, and that being able to return for additional follow-up to see if the nodules had grown meant that screening was working for them, according to Dr. Zeliadt.

“They compared how hard it was to quit smoking with how easy it was to be screened,” Dr. Zeliadt told the New York Times. “They engaged in magical thinking that now there’s this wonderful painless external test that can save their lives.”

The authors concluded, “Health care professionals should be aware that many patients will overestimate the value of screening and that patients will work to interpret the findings in a way that reinforces cognitive biases about their smoking behavior.”