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New guidelines were recently released that allow more people to qualify for annual lung cancer screenings. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force noted that anyone between ages 50 and 80 who smoked at least 20 “pack-years” — meaning they smoked a pack of cigarettes a day or an equivalent amount, like two packs a day for 10 years — could qualify.
Until now, scans were recommended for heavier smokers starting at age 55, but newer research shows lighter smokers who are younger can benefit from screenings also. Because the Task Force is recommending the screening guidelines be changed, now insurers must offer the opportunity to all those who meet the new criteria, without a copay.
About 15 million people are estimated to fall into the category that meets new screening guidelines, nearly double the previous number of eligible Americans.
“We’re seeing that lung cancer isn’t just occurring in patients over 70 years old,” explains Mark A. Socinski, MD, Executive Medical Director of the AdventHealth Cancer Institute. “Patients, who may have been former smokers, are presenting at younger ages, and they could absolutely benefit from annual preventive screenings.”
What Is a Lung Cancer Screening?
The only proven test for lung cancer screenings is low-dose computed tomography (LDCT), also called low-dose CT scans. With LDCT, a specific type of X-ray machine scans the body and uses a low dose of radiation to create high-quality images of the lungs. Research has shown that among smokers, LDCT can reduce the risk of losing their lives to lung cancer.
How Does LDCT Help Detect Lung Cancer?
“Low-dose CT scans can detect cancers at a much smaller size, typically in asymptomatic patients where cure rates are much higher,” says Dr. Socinski. Usually, symptoms of lung cancer aren’t noticeable until the cancer has already advanced. That’s why getting annual screenings as a precaution is so helpful in detecting and treating cancer early on.
If your doctor recommends lung cancer screening, be sure to discuss the pros and cons, and understand what to expect before, during and after the screening .
Lung Cancer Screening Changes
Under the outdated guidelines, many adults who could have benefited from being screened for lung cancer were left out of the recommended group. African American people and women tend to be less heavy smokers, and many were unable to qualify for screening under the previous guidelines. Now, they can get screened earlier.
Schedule Your Screening Today
Early detection is key to protecting your health and helping you stay well for years to come. Schedule your screening today to help protect your whole health.