Lung Cancer Scans Are Recommended for People 50 and Older With Shorter Smoking Histories



“There is building evidence that a pretty simple, five-minute, low-dose, low radiation scan can really save a lot of people’s lives,” said Dr. Bernard J. Park, a lung surgeon and the clinical director of the lung-screening service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. About 75 to 85 percent of the cancers found with this screening are Stage 1, and curable with just surgery or radiation, he estimated.

Dr. Park said that many people who signed up for the screening had quit smoking or were trying to stop, but that a few regarded clear scans as a sign that they could keep smoking.

Dr. Smith said that the American Cancer Society was due to revise its own guidelines for lung-cancer screening, and that its advice would probably be similar to that of the task force.

In 2013, the American Academy of Family Physicians declined to recommend for or against CT screening for lung cancer, saying there was insufficient evidence. But the president, Dr. Ada Stewart, said in an emailed statement on Monday that the academy would review the new task force evidence and decide whether to update its own recommendation to its members.

There were 228,820 new cases of lung cancer in the United States in 2020, and 135,720 people died from it, according to the National Cancer Institute. About 90 percent of cases occur in people who smoke, and current smokers’ risk of developing the disease is about 20 times that of nonsmokers.

Only about 20.5 percent of patients survive five years after the diagnosis. Most cases are diagnosed late, after the cancer has begun to spread. But if it can be found and treated early, cure is possible, doctors say.

CT screening has risks, and doctors say those must be explained to patients, who may decide to decline the testing. The scans detect tiny nodules in the lungs that may be early cancers — or maybe not. A suspicious-looking spot could be just a minor infection, inflammation or a benign growth, Dr. Park said.


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