Lung cancer: A quarter of all diseases not recognized by X-ray examinations

Lung cancer: A quarter of all diseases not recognized by X-ray examinations

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Are X-rays too inaccurate to determine lung cancer?

An x-ray examination is considered one of the most important methods for diagnosing lung cancer, but x-rays do not seem to recognize almost a quarter of all lung cancers.

The latest study by the University of Leeds and the University of Exeter found that X-rays showed no signs of the disease in almost a quarter of all people with lung cancer. The results of the study were published in the British Journal of General Practice.

Computer tomography more effective in diagnosing lung cancer

The researchers found that X-ray machines do not identify up to 23 percent of tumors in lung cancer. Therefore, they asked to stop taking X-rays to determine lung cancer. The research team emphasizes that these examinations should be replaced by computer tomography. However, the latter is more time-consuming and expensive.

Results from 21 studies were evaluated

For the current investigation, 21 older studies were analyzed in which more than 1,000 people took part. The researchers found that only 77 to 80 percent of cancers were identified by X-rays.

Missing evidence of the reliability of x-rays?

X-ray examinations for the detection of lung cancer have been widespread for a long time. But surprisingly, there are very few studies on how precise X-rays are in diagnosing lung cancer. If the X-ray examination of the breast were a novel technology for the detection of lung cancer, it would be questionable whether the available evidence would be sufficient to obtain approval as a diagnostic test for lung cancer, the researchers report.

X-rays can show false negative results

Delayed and inaccurate diagnosis poses a major problem for effective treatment of lung cancer. The current study suggests that confidence in chest X-rays could be part of the reason for poor lung cancer survival in the UK, the research team said. There are far fewer computed tomography devices in the UK and far fewer radiologists using such devices compared to the rest of Europe. Physicians should generally be aware of the possibility of a false negative result from X-rays in the detection of lung cancer and use further tests for people with persistent symptoms. (as)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Stephen H Bradley, Sarah Abraham, Matthew EJ Callister, Adam Grice, William T Hamilton et al .: Sensitivity of chest X-ray for detecting lung cancer in people presenting with symptoms: a systematic review, in British Journal of General Practice (query: 23.10.2019), BJGP

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