Lung Cancer Screenings for High-Risk Patients a ‘Move Forward’

Experts with the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) have recommended that current smokers and former-smokers who recently quit should undergo an annual low-dose CT scan to screen for lung cancer.

The recommendation, published Dec. 30 in the Annals of Internal Medicine, says the annual screenings apply to current cigarette smokers age 55 to 80 who have smoked the equivalent of at least of a pack a day for 30 years, or people who had similar smoking habits within the last 15 years. Compared to chest x-rays, the Task Force concluded that CT scans are better able to detect early forms of lung cancer.

Christopher Lathan, MD
Christopher Lathan, MD

“This is a real move forward in the detection of lung cancer,” says Christopher Lathan, MD, an oncologist with the Lowe Center for Thoracic Oncology. “This type of screening will enable us to catch the disease at an earlier stage and influence outcomes for high-risk patients.”

While it isn’t the only risk factor, experts say smoking causes approximately 85 percent of all lung cancers.  According to the Task Force recommendation, these annual screenings for high-risk patients (starting at age 55) detected approximately 50 percent of lung cancers in an early stage, reducing the number of deaths by 14 percent.

In its report, the Task Force also acknowledged concerns about potential overexposure to radiation, or over-diagnosis. However, for heavy smokers, the Task Force concluded the benefits of detection outweigh the risks of annual low-radiation CT screenings.

Although the annual screenings may be a step in the right direction for high-risk patients, the Task Force’s recommendation does not address screening for non-smokers, or for the many other cancers that are diagnosed each year. For more information on cancer screening recommendations, visit this page.