A pivotal 2006 study on lung-cancer screening, published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), was funded in part by cigarette manufacturers. This conflict of interest was brought to light today in an article by the New York Times.
The research in question looked at whether CT scans can be used to detect early lung cancer in smokers—and concluded that a whopping 80 percent of lung cancer deaths could be prevented with widespread screening.
By reviewing tax records, the Times discovered that Liggett Group, maker of Liggett, Eve, Grand Prix and several other brands, underwrote the majority of the study with $3.6 million in financial support. They achieved this by financing a charity, called the Foundation for Lung Cancer: Early Detection, Prevention & Treatment; two of the study’s authors, including lead researcher Dr. Claudia Henschke of Weill Cornell Medical College, served as the Foundation’s president.
Prominent cancer researchers have been quick to denounce Dr. Henschke’s failure to disclose the relationship: Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society is quoted in the Times, saying, “If you’re using blood money, you need to tell people you’re using blood money.”
As surprising as the news itself, is it’s timing. In recent years, medical journals have instituted strict guidelines requiring authors to disclose conflicts of interest, and universities have moved away from taking grants from cigarette makers. (You can read NEJM’s policy here.)
You can access the U.S. National Cancer Institutes fact sheet on CT scans and lung cancer screening here.