I’ve been waiting for this news – as have most of the doctors, surgeons and health care practitioners who have seen lung cancer kill the many who could have been saved with early screenings. It’s about time!
After decades of debate, guidelines issued recently by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force call for annual CT screening of current and former smokers aged 55-80 with a history of smoking the equivalent of a pack a day for 30 years, or 2 packs a day for 15 years. The recommendation applies to those who have quit smoking within the past 15 years.
Lung cancer screening guidelines are in response to the results of the National Cancer Institute’s sponsored national lung screening trial (NLST). NLST findings published in the New England Journal of Medicine in August 2011 reported evidence that low dose chest CT screening reduced lung cancer mortality by 20%.
This is huge in the fight against lung cancer because this recommendation, if accepted by the U.S. Congress, will require insurance companies to cover such “preventive services.” Many major organizations like the American Cancer Society and the American Society of Clinical Oncology have already endorsed guidelines for lung cancer screening, but the U.S. Preventive Task Force is the final step in making screening chest CT scans as common as mammograms and colonoscopies. This kind of screening can prevent as many as 20,000 deaths per year.
According to the new guidelines, the recommendation is an annual low-dose CT of the chest for people aged 55 to 80 with a history of smoking. The peak incidence of lung cancer in the US is age 73. Right now only approximately 15% of all lung cancers are being diagnosed in an early stage amenable to surgery for cure. When lung cancers are found earlier, the five-year survival rate dramatically improves from 15% to over 90%. We have been saying for years that people should not wait until they have symptoms because then it’s too late!
The risk for lung cancer is different for each person. If you are in this category, talk to your doctor about getting a CT scan to screen for lung cancer. Ask for a clear explanation about the possible benefits and risks of being screened for lung cancer. There are some risks and not everyone should be screened. Only Low Dose CT scans are recommended for screening. Chest X-rays are not recommended.
Lung cancer screening will help us detect lesions earlier and minimally invasive surgery allows the patient to get back to their normal routine quicker. Make sure you always know your options and remember there are no dumb questions.
Screening for lung cancer may save your life. Call my office with any questions or to schedule a consultation.
The best way to prevent lung cancer is to never smoke or stop smoking now. If you are still smoking, talk to your doctor about ways to help you quit smoking.
Dr. Presser is a board certified thoracic surgeon specializing in minimally invasive procedures. He is an advocate for prevention and encourages lung cancer screenings which are proven to save lives. He welcomes your questions and can be reached at 760.424.8224.