In 1987, lung cancer surpassed breast cancer to become the leading cause of cancer death in women. According to the American Lung Association, lung cancer is now the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women, accounting for more deaths annually than colon, breast and prostate combined.
In light of these grim statistics, the fight against lung cancer may be taking another major step forward. Based on new evidence, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) — a government panel of health care experts that evaluates the latest scientific evidence on preventive services — has come out in support of low-dose CT screening for lung cancer in current and former heavy smokers. The USPSTF based its recommendation on evidence from several studies, including a large, high-quality trial called the National Lung Cancer Screening Trial (NLST) involving more than 50,000 people.
Northern Arizona Radiology is one of the first centers in the region to offer CT lung screening for cancer. The trial demonstrated that CT lung screening was far superior to traditional chest X-ray and provided a 20 percent decrease in lung cancer deaths among high-risk individuals.
In lung cancer, as with so many other cancers, early detection is critical in lowering death rates. The evidence now supports screening in those at the highest risk of lung cancer, which are current and former smokers ages 55 to 74.
This likely marks the beginning of broad lung cancer screening in this high-risk group.
The NLST study and the USPSTF recommendation is putting CT lung cancer screening on the map; a 20 percent decrease in death cancer rates is a big deal. It may take several years for insurance coverage to catch up, but the change is coming.
The trials and the USPSTF recommendation for CT lung screening in asymptomatic, high-risk current and former smokers is the kind of evidence that insurance providers and physicians have been waiting for.
Specifically, the new USPSTF guidelines recommend annual CT lung screening for lung cancer for people age 55 to 74 years with a 30-pack-year or greater smoking history who currently smoke or who have quit smoking for 15 years or less.
For smokers, who still face a multitude of other health risks caused by smoking, screening with lung CT can catch one of the costliest and most devastating results of smoking — lung cancer — and possibly encourage smokers to finally quit. For former smokers, CT lung screening pay even greater dividends by catching cancers that may still develop before they lead to late-stage, inoperable lung cancer, reinforcing their original healthy lifestyle decision to quit smoking.