New Guidelines On Lung Cancer Screening for Smokers

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Dr. Pellicone


During Healthy Lung Month, recognized in October, Dr. John Pellicone suggests that smokers and former smokers talk to their doctor about lung scans for early detection and prevention.

“There are new guidelines that recommend heavy smokers ages 55 to 80 undergo yearly screenings for lung cancer with low-dose CT scans.  If you are a current or former smoker in this age group, your doctor may suggest you start receiving these scans,” he says.

The guidelines come from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent panel of experts authorized by Congress to make recommendations about preventive health services. The task force advises people ages 55 to 80 who smoked at least a pack a day for 30 years to undergo screening, even if they quit as long as 15 years ago. The scans can detect lung cancer early, while it can be treated. That’s important, since many cases of lung cancer are not diagnosed until it is in a late stage, when treatment is often not effective.

The task force’s recommendation is based on a large study that found CT scans could reduce deaths by 16 percent in patients with the highest risk of lung cancer.

About 85 percent of lung cancer cases in the United States are caused by smoking and a high percentage occur in former smokers because the risk of the disease continues even after a person stops smoking. Since about 20 percent of Americans smoke and many more are former smokers, lung cancer will remain a major public health problem in this country for decades to come, the task force noted.

Health insurance companies tend to cover procedures that are strongly recommended by the task force. Medicare is also expected to begin covering the scans, which cost an average of $170.

If a scan picks up one of these abnormalities, the patient may require more invasive tests depending upon the clinical circumstances.  For this reason, the task force decided not to recommend more widespread screening of smokers.

The best way to cut your risk of lung cancer is to quit smoking. During Healthy Lung Month this October, contact the American Cancer Society for help (1-800-227-2345) or visit their website to read their Guide to Quitting Smoking.

Dr. Pellicone is a New York Pulmonologist, of Clarkstown Pulmonary Associates in West Haverstraw, NY and on staff at Nyack Hospital.

Nyack Hospital is a 375-bed community acute care medical and surgical hospital located in Rockland County, NY. Founded in 1895, it is a member of the New York-Presbyterian Healthcare System, an affiliate of Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, and has partnered with Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine providing clinical rotations to third-year medical students.


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