Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer in the United States, but new lung cancer screening eligibility guidelines offer hope to help save lives.
Andrea McKee, M.D.
Oncologist, National Volunteer Medical Spokesperson for the American Lung Association
One fact that most Americans don’t know is that lung cancer is the leading cancer killer of both men and women in the U.S. Since the diagnosis typically doesn’t present symptoms until it is in the later stages of the disease, it is often caught at stage 4 when it’s less curable.
But there is hope.
The lung cancer five-year survival rate has increased 14.5% nationally to 23.7% in the last 10 years. This is thanks, in part, to greater awareness of the disease and advancements in treatment. In addition, low dose CT screening for those at high risk is one of our most important tools to end lung cancer deaths and save more lives.
If lung cancer is caught before it spreads, the likelihood of surviving five years or more improves to 60%. With screening, the earliest stage disease is diagnosed in 8 out of 10 cases, and stage 1 lung cancer is highly curable. Unfortunately, lung cancer screening is underutilized. Nationally, only 5.7% of people who are eligible have been screened.
Now more people are recommended to get this lifesaving screening.
In March 2021, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) expanded the guidelines for lung cancer screening. In total, lung cancer screening is recommended for 14 million Americans based on their age and smoking history, and many can get this screening through their private health plans or Medicare at no cost.
With the expanded guidelines, more than double the number of Black and Brown Americans are eligible for screening. In addition, close to twice as many women are also eligible under the new guidelines.
Who is eligible for lung cancer screening? According to USPSTF, you are considered high risk for lung cancer and eligible for screening if you are:
- 50-80 years old;
- Have a 20 pack-year smoking history (smoked one pack a day for 20 years, two packs a day for 10 years, or equivalent); and
- Currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years.
Medicare covers screening for individuals 50-77 who meet these criteria. If you are eligible, talk to your doctor about lung cancer screening today, or share this information with a loved one who might be eligible.
For those of you who don’t meet the eligibility guidelines, it is important to recognize that anyone can get lung cancer and you should know the risk factors. First, and most importantly, if you smoke, please start your journey to become tobacco-free. Test your home for radon. Be aware of the air pollution outside your front door and know what to do on days with poor air quality. Know your family history of lung cancer and lung disease.
Learn more and see if you are eligible at SavedBytheScan.org.