New Guidelines Could Nearly Double Lung Cancer Screenings

More women and African Americans would be prompted by their clinicians to get screened for lung cancer under a new recommendation by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.
A clinician views a CT Scan
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A new recommendation by a federally appointed task force would nearly double the number of Americans eligible for free lung cancer screenings, a move that should result in more women and Black people getting tested for the leading cause of death cancer death in the United States.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) lowers the age to start screening from 55 to 50 to make someone eligible for screening and reduces the number of years one has smoked from 30 to 20 years. These changes mean the number of people now eligible for screening increases from about 8 million people to approximately 15 million.

Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer. Candidates for CT scans are now people 50 to 80 years old who have smoked at least 20 pack-years over their lifetime, still smoke or who have quit smoking within the last 15 years. One pack-year is the equivalent of smoking an average of 20 cigarettes, or one pack, per day for a year.

By expanding who is eligible for screening, the changes to this recommendation will be particularly helpful to Black people and women, the task force said in announcing its recommendation on Tuesday. While data show that both groups smoke fewer cigarettes than white men, Black people have a higher risk of lung cancer than whites.

“The new USPSTF guideline will help save more lives by reducing deaths from lung cancer, the No. 1 cancer killer in the United States,” said Douglas K. Owens, director of Stanford Health Policy and past chair of the 16-member panel of independent national experts in prevention and evidence-based medicine. Their guidelines impact virtually every primary care patient in the country as they become the standard followed by most health-care practices.

“The expanded screening criteria will particularly increase recommended screening in Black persons and women and may help address racial disparities in screening eligibility,” said Owens, who is also a senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.

The American Cancer Society notes that large studies have shown that people who get CT Scans had a 20% lower chance of dying from lung cancer than those who get chest X-rays. The society estimates that more than 131,000 people will die of lung cancer this year.

Health insurers are required under the Affordable Care Act to provide free screenings recommended by the task force.

“The task force reviewed new evidence that shows screening can help many more people who are at high risk for lunch cancer,” said task force member Michael J. Barry. “By screening more people who are younger and who have smoked fewer cigarettes, we can save more lives and help people remain healthy longer.”

doug owens

Douglas K. Owens

Professor of Medicine
Clinical guidelines, cost-effectiveness of preventive interventions.

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