A large study of smokers and ex-smokers in the Netherlands and Belgium is confirming that widespread screening using low-dose CT scans can dramatically lower the lung cancer death rate.

After 10 years, the mortality rate for men who received regular screening was reduced by 24 percent compared with men who got no screening. Although women were underrepresented in the study, the research team found that screening lowered their risk of dying from lung cancer by 33 percent. A total of 15,792 people volunteered for the study.

The decline “is significant and clear-cut for males. It seems even more effective in females,” lead study author Harry de Koning of Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam told Reuters Health in a telephone interview.

The researchers estimated that four rounds of screening over about five years prevented 60 deaths from lung cancer among the 6,583 screened. The findings buttress results from the United States, released in 2011 from the National Lung Screening Trial, showing a 20 percent reduction in mortality with CT screening.

Although U.S. guidelines began endorsing routine lung cancer screening after the release of the 2011 findings, European countries have been slower to adopt the practice because studies done there have been small or inconclusive.

“Our job is no longer to assess whether low-dose CT screening for lung cancer works: it does,” write Stephen Duffy of Queen Mary University of London and John Field of the University of Liverpool in an editorial accompanying the study in the New England Journal of Medicine. “Our job is to identify the target population in which it will be acceptable and cost-effective.”

Lung cancer kills more people worldwide than any other type of cancer. It is responsible for 18.4 percent of all cancer deaths, in part because 70 percent of the people diagnosed with the disease are already at an advanced stage when it is discovered. Only 15 percent survive for five years.

— Reuters