Lung Screening Guidelines Expand to Include More People

By Pat Carragher - February 08, 2021

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has lowered the age requirement for a lung cancer screening from 55 to 50. The new guidelines can potentially double the number of patients eligible for a low-dose CT scan. These guidelines had previously been implemented by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.

These updated guidelines were originally drafted in July. Moffitt Cancer Center expanded its guidelines in February based on the initial draft. Insurance carriers will now be mandated by law to adjust coverage according to the new recommendations.

Doctors also recommend lowering the number of years a person has smoked a pack a day, on average, from 30 to 20.

Dr. Tawee Tanvetyanon, thoracic medical oncologist
Dr. Tawee Tanvetyanon, thoracic medical oncologist

According to Dr. Tawee Tanvetyanon, a managing physician for lung cancer screening in Moffit’s Thoracic Oncology Program, the new guidelines are a plus for former smokers.

“This now allows screening of individuals who quit smoking more than 15 years ago,” said Tanvetyanon. “Many people do not remember exactly when they quit smoking. Although quitting smoking greatly reduces the risk of lung cancer, lung cancer screening can add another layer of protection for those who already quit.”

Dr. Matthew Schabath, a lung cancer researcher at Moffitt, says the changes should allow for more inclusion of diverse populations, specifically women and Black Americans.

“From an epidemiologic perspective, these expanded criteria could help close the gap in racial and ethnic disparities for lung cancer,” said Schabath. “Some of these underserved populations tend to get lung cancer at a younger age and have less tobacco exposure.”

Lung cancer often has no symptoms, so it’s hard to detect early when there is a best chance for a cure. More than 60% of lung cancers are diagnosed after the disease has spread, leading to worse outcomes for patients. A study presented at the 2018 World Conference on Lung Cancer confirms lung cancer screening is the right choice for those at risk.

Dr. Matthew Schabath, Departments of Cancer Epidemiology and Thoracic Oncology

Schabath says the new recommendations are more aligned with the inclusion criteria from recently published randomized clinical trials.

“The National Comprehensive Cancer Network decided to include these more inclusive criteria because of three successful trials that were conducted in Europe,” said Schabath. “They utilized more inclusive criteria and still showed efficacy of reducing lung cancer mortality by early detection with low-dose CT scan.”

Schabath hopes offering the lifesaving tool to more people will also increase the number of individuals who get screened. Less than 5% of those who are currently eligible are getting screened.

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