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These 3 Groups of People Should Screen For Lung Cancer Anually

smoking and lung cancer

Currently lung cancer screening rates are low, according to the latest research. Why? And should you schedule a screening today?


February is Cancer Prevention Month. During this month, we should take some time to understand what our risks are for developing certain types of cancer and take the steps to lower those risks. One step you can take today is to learn your individual risk for developing lung cancer, and learn about the options for screening.

Screening increases the chances of detecting certain cancers early, when they are most likely to be curable. Most of us are already aware of certain screening recommendations – such as mammograms for breast cancer and colonoscopy for colon cancer – but are you aware of the recommendations for screening for lung cancer?

Per a study by the American Cancer Society, published in JAMA Oncology, lung cancer screening rates remain low despite recommending that those at high risk (including both current and former smokers) receive annual checkups. According to the research, in 2015, there are about 6.8 million Americans who meet the criteria for screening, but only 262,700 who actually received it.

"The reasons for the low uptake in screening are probably varied, and likely include lack of knowledge among both smokers and doctors as to screening recommendations as well as access to high quality screening," said Dr. Ahmedin Jemal DVM PhD. “We cannot prevent … deaths until and unless we start educating eligible smokers as well as clinicians about the benefits and risks of screening, so patients can make an informed decision."

The American Cancer Society recommends annual screening for those who are at high risk of lung cancer due to cigarette smoking. Screening might be right for you if you are all of the following:

• 55 to 74 years of age
• In good health
• Have at least a 30 pack-year* smoking history AND are either still smoking or have quit within the last 15 years

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(A pack-year is the number of cigarette packs smoked each day multiplied by the number of years a person has smoked. Someone who smoked a pack of cigarettes per day for 30 years has a 30 pack-year smoking history, as does someone who smoked 2 packs a day for 15 years.)

Screening is done with an annual low-dose CT scan (LDCT) of the chest. If these criteria fit you, talk to a health care provider if you want to start screening.

And by the way, did you know that insurance may pay for you to quit smoking?

Medicare, for example, offers help for quitting tobacco, called tobacco-use cessation counseling. If you have a condition that’s been caused or made worse by smoking or tobacco use, or if you take a medicine that’s affected by tobacco, Medicare will help pay for up to 8 face-to-face visits with an approved health provider in a 12-month period. You may have to pay a co-pay or deductible, but it’s well worth your time and money to lower your risk of lung cancer.

Journal Reference:
Ahmedin Jemal, Stacey A. Fedewa. Lung Cancer Screening With Low-Dose Computed Tomography in the United States—2010 to 2015. JAMA Oncology, 2017; DOI: 10.1001/jamaoncol.2016.6416

Additional Resources:
American Cancer Society

Photo Credit:
By Lindsay Fox from Newport beach, United States - Cigarette Pack, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons