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Louise Henderson and M. Patricia Rivera
UNC Lineberger’s Louise Henderson, PhD, and M. Patricia Rivera, MD, ATSF.

The National Cancer Institute has awarded UNC Lineberger’s Louise Henderson, PhD, professor of radiology, and M. Patricia Rivera, MD, ATSF, professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine, a four-year, $1.5 million grant to study comorbidity and functional status in a population undergoing lung cancer screening. Other UNC Lineberger investigators contributing the study include Chris Baggett, PhD, Jenny Lund, PhD, and Dan Reuland, MD, MPH.

The National Lung Screening Trial (NLST) found that lung cancer screening with low-dose computed tomography, compared to chest radiography, resulted in a 20% relative reduction in lung cancer mortality. Based on these findings, in 2013 the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force began recommending annual low-dose computed tomography lung cancer screening in current or former heavy smokers ages 55-80 years.

The NLST, however, provided limited evidence on the effectiveness of lung cancer screening in patients with comorbid conditions. While older patients with significant smoking exposure have higher risk of developing lung cancer, they also tend to have more comorbid illness, functional limitations, and shorter life expectancy, often making them ineligible for standard early-stage lung cancer treatments. Research to understand the effectiveness of lung cancer screening in patients with pre-existing medical comorbidities and functional limitations is needed.

Henderson, Rivera and a multi-disciplinary team will make innovative use of their existing work using population-based registry data to provide evidence-based, real-world data to inform lung cancer screening in clinical practice, by baseline risk, comorbid conditions, and functional status.