Ousted Penn State Football Coach Joe Paterno's 'Treatable' Lung Cancer: What It Means

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The approach just might work, at least according to research released in June and published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The results of the seven-year study offer the first solid evidence that screening with CT scans could reduce lung cancer deaths by as much as 20 percent in high-risk groups, such as heavy smokers older than 55.

Another important factor in the survivability of lung cancer is whether the cancer is classified as "small cell" or "non-small cell." Of these, small cell is the more aggressive. According to NCI data, patients who are diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer tend to have a better chance of survival, at least when the cancer is caught in its earlier stages. In this area, the numbers are slightly more forgiving: Only about 15 percent of the estimated 221,130 Americans who will be diagnosed with lung cancer this year will have the small cell variety, according to the National Institutes of Health.

ABC News' Michael S. James contributed to this report.

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