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USPSTF recommends lung cancer screening for high-risk patients

Friday January 3, 2014
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The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has published its final recommendation statement on screening for lung cancer, recommending screening for people ages 55 to 80 who are at high risk for lung cancer because they either are heavy smokers or former heavy smokers who have quit within the past 15 years.

The recommendation is based on a comprehensive review of the available evidence. Under terms of the Affordable Care Act, the recommendation means insurers must cover the full cost of lung cancer screening for people deemed to be at high risk.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. and a devastating diagnosis for more than 200,000 people each year, according to a USPSTF news release. Nearly 90% of people who have lung cancer die from the disease, in part because it often is not found until it is at an advanced stage. Smoking is the biggest risk factor for developing lung cancer, resulting in about 85% of lung cancers in the U.S. The risk for developing lung cancer also increases with age, with most lung cancers occurring in people age 55 or older.

“It’s clear that the longer and the more a person smokes, the greater their risk is for developing lung cancer,” Task Force co-vice chairman Michael LeFevre, MD, MSPH, said in the news release. “When clinicians are determining who would most benefit from screening, they need to look at a 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.”

Task Force chairwoman Virginia Moyer, MD, MPH, noted that evaluating a patient’s overall health is a critical step in determining whether screening is appropriate. “The benefit of screening may be significantly less in people with serious medical problems and there is no benefit in screening someone for whom treatment is not an option,” Moyer said in the news release. “In these people, screening may lead to unintended harms such as unnecessary tests and invasive procedures.”

Moyer added that screening for lung cancer, “while beneficial, should not be an alternative to quitting smoking. The best way to reduce the sickness and death associated with lung cancer is to promote smoking cessation and protect people who are nonsmokers from tobacco smoke exposure.”

Final recommendation: www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/uspstf/uspslung.htm


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