Home / Lung Cancer Screening Advised For Some Heavy Smokers And Former Smokers

Lung Cancer Screening Advised For Some Heavy Smokers And Former Smokers

U.S. Preventative Services Task Force introduces guidelines for smokers who should seek annual lung cancer screening

  • Lung cancer screening is advised for smokers aged 55 to 80

  • Lung cancer screening benefits “moderately” outweigh risks

Lung Cancer Screening

Lung cancer screening benefits moderately outweigh risks
Image by Roman Pavlyuk

The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force published an advisory in the Annals of Internal Medicine for smokers aged 55 to 80 whose smoking has put them at high risk for cancer to seek annual lung cancer screening.  The recommendations also apply to former smokers who have recently quit, or quit within the past 15 years.

The advisory calls for smokers and former smokers in this group to seek annual lung cancer screening tests.  The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force found that the benefits of lung cancer screening within this group outweigh the potential harms of over diagnosis and increased radiation exposure.  The panel was moderately certain that lung cancer screening benefits outweighed the risks, and gave the recommendations a “B” rating.

Lung cancer screening is completed using low-dose computed tomography, or CT scans.  The risk associated with this type of lung cancer screening is an increased chance of cancer due to the radiation.

Lung cancer screening is expected to help prevent some of the 160,000 deaths that occur annually from this disease.  Smoking is the greatest contributor to lung cancer, 85 percent of lung cancer is caused by smoking.

The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force states that, “lung cancer screening is not an alternative to smoking cessation and that screening cannot prevent most deaths that are directly related to lung cancer. However, they found there was adequate evidence that annual lung cancer screening in a defined population of high-risk persons could prevent a substantial amount of disease-related mortality.”

While the American Cancer Society and the American Society of Clinical Oncology mostly agree with these guidelines, some questions are left unanswered.  Frank C. Detterbeck, MD, from Yale University School of Medicine and Michael Unger, MD, from the Fox Chase Cancer Center state, “It is one thing to have strict criteria for entry into a study and no data that lung cancer screening works; it is another to argue that we should be screening and then expect that individuals with concerns can be excluded by simply drawing a line.”

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