October 01, 2021

Lung cancer screening guidelines get an update

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer and the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. While the overall survival rate is just over 20%, those diagnosed early have a much higher likelihood of curative treatment.

Screening people at high risk is the best way to spot lung cancer in its early stages. Recommendations for who may benefit from screening have changed.

In the past, annual screening for lung cancer was recommended in adults ages 55 to 80 with a 30 pack-year smoking history — both current smokers and those who quit within the past 15 years. Pack years are calculated by multiplying the number of packs of cigarettes smoked a day by the number of years the person has smoked.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) released a new recommendation statement in the March 9, 2021, issue of JAMA with two major changes. First, the age range of screening was expanded to adults ages 50 to 80. Second, the number of pack years was lowered to 20. This means that screening is now recommended for people who’ve smoked at least one pack a day for 20 years, two packs a day for 10 years, or some other equivalent. The recommendations still apply if you’re a current smoker or if you quit within the past 15 years. However, the USPSTF says that screening can be discontinued once you have not smoked for 15 years or if you develop a different health problem that significantly limits your life expectancy or ability...