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What You Need to Know about Lung Cancer Screening in 2022

Illustration of pink lungs with grey background

Treatment for lung cancer is most effective when the cancer is detected early, before you have symptoms. Effective screening can help physicians catch lung cancer earlier in people most at risk. In 2021, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force updated its lung cancer screening guidelines, nearly doubling the number of individuals eligible for screening.

Lung Cancer Screening & Eligibility

Why is lung cancer screening important?

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States and worldwide. In fact, the American Lung Association estimates over 250,000 new cases of lung cancer will be diagnosed, and over 130,000 lung cancer deaths will occur in 2022.

Despite these high estimates, many lung cancer-related deaths can be prevented with effective screening. When lung cancer is detected early, more treatment options are available. Treating early-stage lung cancer has been shown to greatly increase five-year survival rate, and the National Cancer Institute notes that clinical trials have shown screening with low-dose computed tomography (CT) decreases the risk of dying from lung cancer in heavy smokers.

Most lung cancers do not show symptoms until the disease is already at an advanced stage. Screening helps doctors find cancer sooner, rather than waiting for symptoms to appear.

“Early detection of lung cancer is an important opportunity for reducing cancer-related deaths,” says Washington University cardiothoracic surgeon Varun Puri, MD, MSCI. “Ideally, effective screening will lead to earlier detection of lung cancer—before patients have symptoms and when treatment is more likely to be effective—and will decrease mortality.”

What is lung cancer screening?

Screening tests look for cancer before you show any symptoms. There are common screening tests for several types of cancer, including colorectal, prostate, breast and lung cancer, among others.

Lung cancer screening with low-dose CT is a type of imaging test that uses a low dose of radiation to make detailed pictures of the inside of the body using an x-ray machine. This test scans the chest to check for lung nodules (small, abnormal areas in the lungs). Most lung nodules are not cancerous, but detecting and monitoring these nodules can help your doctor catch lung cancer early.

Read more: Lung Nodules.

“Lung cancer screening is actually more effective than any other cancer screening,” says Washington University cardiothoracic surgeon Benjamin Kozower, MD, MPH. “It is more effective than even mammograms for breast cancer or colonoscopies for colon cancer. It’s important that we encourage people at high risk to do this screening.”

Who is eligible for screening?

Under the new U.S. Preventive Service Taskforce lung cancer screening guidelines, more people are eligible for screening than ever before. About 14 million people in the U.S. are at high-risk for lung cancer.

The two most important risk factors for lung cancer are smoking and older age. People considered at high risk according to the new criteria are: people 50-80 years of age with a 20 pack-year smoking history who currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years.

A “pack-year” is defined as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day or an equivalent amount.

You may be eligible for lung cancer screening if you:

  • Are 50-80 years old
  • Have smoked a pack of cigarettes per day for 20 years
  • Currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years

Washington University lung cancer specialists encourage anyone who might be at high risk for lung cancer to talk with their doctor about screening with low-dose CT. A doctor can help you understand the benefits and risks of screening, even if you do not have any symptoms.

Lung Cancer Screening Program

The Lung Cancer Screening Program at Washington University and Siteman Cancer Center offers expert screening, education, tools to help you quit smoking, and other resources for people at high risk for lung cancer.

“Lung cancer screening with low-dose CT should be part of a program of care and should not be performed as a free-standing test,” Puri says. Puri and a team of lung cancer specialists from across the country recently published insights into recent lung cancer screening guidelines in the Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.

The program at Siteman Cancer Center brings together all the tools and resources you need to understand your risk, detect cancer, stop smoking, and find the treatment you need.

To learn more about the Lung Cancer Screening Program at Siteman Cancer Center, please call 314-747-3046 or visit the Siteman Cancer Center website.

To make an appointment with a Washington University lung surgeon or refer a patient, please call 314-362-7260 or visit the Cardiothoracic Surgery website.

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