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Group suggests screening high-risk patients for lung cancer

Tuesday July 30, 2013
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In a draft recommendation statement on screening for lung cancer, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening people who are at high risk for lung cancer with annual low-dose CT scans.

Smoking is the biggest risk factor for developing lung cancer, resulting in about 85% of lung cancers in the United States. The risk for developing lung cancer also increases with age, with most lung cancers occurring in people age 55 or older.

“The more you smoke over time, the more at risk you are for lung cancer,” task force co-vice chairman Michael LeFevre, MD, MSPH, said in a news release. “When deciding who will be screened, clinicians will need to assess the person’s age, overall health, how much the person has smoked, and whether the person is still smoking or how many years it has been since the person quit.

“This evaluation will help clinicians decide whether it may be beneficial to screen a given person.”

After reviewing the evidence, the task force determined that clinicians can reach a reasonable balance of benefits and harms by screening people who are ages 55 to 80 and have a 30-pack-year or greater history of smoking, and are either current smokers or have quit in the past 15 years.

A “pack year” means that someone has smoked an average of one pack of cigarettes per day for a year. For example, a person reaches 30 pack years of smoking history by smoking a pack a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years.

“Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States and a devastating diagnosis for more than 200,000 people each year,” said task force chair Virginia Moyer, MD, MPH.

“Sadly, nearly 90% of people who develop lung cancer die from the disease, in part because it often is not found until it is at an advanced stage. By screening those at high risk, we can find lung cancer at earlier stages when it is more likely to be treatable.”

LeFevre also cautioned that “it’s important to remember that helping smokers stop smoking and protecting non-smokers from exposure to tobacco smoke are the most effective ways to decrease the sickness and death associated with lung cancer. In addition, people who quit smoking will continue to see their risk go down over time. Screening for lung cancer is beneficial, but it is not an alternative to quitting smoking.”

The task force will take public comments on the draft recommendation statement until Aug. 26 before developing its final recommendation. To read the recommendation and to comment, visit www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/draftrec.htm.


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