High-Risk Lung Cancer Screening Age Lowered

Lung cancer is the leading cause of U.S. cancer deaths, but new guidelines recently released are hoped to reduce the risk of death among people at high risk because of smoking.  According to a recent New York Times report, the U.S. Preventive Service Task Force has lowered the age when lung cancer screenings should start from 55 to 50 and the smoking history from 30 years to 20. 

The task force recommends using a low-dose CT scan to screen for lung cancer among high-risk patients; this technology emits a small amount of radiation and costs about $300.  Annual CT scans for those at increased risk will mean more African-Americans and women are screened than in the past and may reduce the risk of death for high-risk people from lung cancer by 20 to 25 percent. 

According to the new guidelines, published in the journal JAMA, the changes will add more women and African-Americans to the group of people eligible for screening because these populations tend to smoke less heavily than white males – the study participants who were used to develop earlier guidelines.  Women and Black Americans also tend to develop lung cancer earlier than white men, with less exposure to tobacco, although the mechanism behind these differences is not yet fully understood. 

Low-dose CT scans to screen for lung cancer are not recommended once a patient has stopped smoking for 15 years or if other health problems would significantly shorten their life expectancy or make them unable to have lung surgery if necessary.   

Many patients eligible for lung cancer screening may not be aware of the benefits of regular screenings due to a lack of public awareness or advice from healthcare providers.  Researchers have found that about half of those who are eligible for the screenings had either no medical insurance or a plan that does not cover the scans. 

As more people become eligible for COVID-19 vaccination, and the number of cases declines, it’s important for older adults to get their recommended health and vision screenings and dental checkups.  Early detection is a key factor in the diagnosis and treatment of cancers as well as many chronic health conditions. 

Talk with your doctor to determine if you fit the criteria for low-dose CT screenings for lung cancer and for help quitting smoking.