Public Health

What New Lung Cancer Screening Guidelines Mean for You

Older man talking with his doctor

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For many, lung cancer isn’t diagnosed until symptoms develop — and that’s often after the disease has progressed and spread to other parts of the body, if at all. Early detection can give those with lung cancer a better chance of survival by catching it early when it’s more treatable.

One method of early detection is lung cancer screening. Guidelines from the American Cancer Society have recently changed. Here are the updated guidelines to learn if lung cancer screening is right for you.

What is Lung Cancer Screening?

Lung cancer screening is a noninvasive and painless test we perform on healthy people to see if they have lung cancer. During screening, a low dose computed tomography (LDCT) scan is used to check the lungs for signs of cancer.

Patients are asked to lie flat on a table, which will move into the CT machine (a large machine shaped like a donut) when everyone is ready. The machine takes detailed pictures of the lungs from every angle.

This screening tool is highly effective and proven to catch lung cancer, even in the early stages. Results are often available within a few days.

Who Should Get Screened for Lung Cancer?

According to the new ACS guidelines, more people are eligible to receive lung cancer screening than under previous recommendations. The new guidelines suggest you should be screened for lung cancer every year if you:

  • Are between age 50 and 80 (previously 55 to 74)
  • Have a 20-pack year history, where one pack year is equal to smoking 20 cigarettes per day for one year (previously 30-pack year)

Importantly, while the previous guidelines didn’t recommend screening for former smokers who quit more than 15 years ago, the new guidelines recommend screening for all former smokers with a 20-year pack history, regardless of when they quit. Expanding these guidelines means former smokers who quit more than 15 years ago are still eligible for screening.

Whether you quit smoking last week or 20 years ago, you may still be at risk of developing lung cancer. And lung cancer risk increases with age.

Benefits of Lung Cancer Screening

The main goal of lung cancer screening is to catch the disease before symptoms develop. In other words, screening can help improve early diagnosis of cancer. In fact, according to the American Lung Association, screening detects more than half of lung cancers at an early stage.

At this stage, patients have more treatment options available, such as surgery to completely remove lung cancer tumors, which can improve outcomes. That means a better chance of long-term survival. Stage I lung cancer, when the cancer is a single, small tumor that has not spread outside of the lung, has a greater than 70% cure rate.

With these new guidelines, experts hope the health care community can lower the number of lung cancer deaths in the U.S. through improved early detection.

Talk to your doctor if you think you may be eligible for lung cancer screening.

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