Five million additional U.S. adults should be screened annually for lung cancer, according to updated guidelines released Wednesday by the American Cancer Society.
Older adults ages 55-74 with at least a 30 pack-year history of smoking—and who haven’t quit smoking or quit smoking 15 or fewer years ago—were recommended for screening under previous guidelines, last updated in 2013.
A pack-year is equal to smoking a pack (about 20 cigarettes) a day for a year. Thus, the 30 pack-year requirement could be met by someone who smoked a pack a day for 30 years, or a pack and a half a day for 15 years.
Now, those a bit older and younger—ages 50-54 and 75-80—should also be screened, the organization says. It dropped the pack-year requirement to at least 20 and says years since quitting should no longer be taken into account, as there is no point at which a former smoker’s risk of lung cancer drops to zero.
Recent studies have shown that modifying screening requirements “could make a real difference in saving lives,” Dr. Robert Smith, senior vice president of early cancer detection science at the American Cancer Society, said in a news release.
The recommended screening is a low-dose CT scan.
A leading cause of cancer deaths
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. and the second most frequently diagnosed cancer. Overall, cancer is the No. 2 most common cause of death in the U.S., second only to heart disease. This year, nearly 240,000 new cases of lung cancer will be diagnosed—split nearly evenly between men and women—and more than 127,000 people with the disease will die, according to the ACS.
While lung cancer can be diagnosed at any age, lung cancer mainly occurs in those ages 65 and older. Those who meet the screening guidelines should discuss the potential benefits, limits, and risks of yearly screening, the ACS says. And those who smoke should still attempt to quit.
Adults with a limited life expectancy due to health conditions or who are unwilling or unable to receive treatment if diagnosed shouldn’t be screened, the organization says.
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