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New Lung Cancer Screening Guidelines Save Lives

New Lung Cancer Screening Guidelines Save Lives

With SMH Pulmonologist Dr. Joseph Seaman & Lung Cancer Screening Program Coordinator Amie Miller

Did you know lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S.? 

In 2020 alone, it killed more than 135,000 people.

According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, the 5-year survival rate of a lung cancer diagnosis is typically about 20% — a poor prognosis for the estimated 228,000 people who were diagnosed with the disease last year.

In an effort to improve these odds and help ensure more lung cancer success stories, federal health officials have made lung cancer screening accessible to more people by expanding eligibility criteria

Just like mammograms screen for breast cancer and colonoscopies screen for colon cancer, lung cancer screening aims to detect disease before symptoms arise, when it's most treatable and a patient is more likely to have to a successful outcome.

"This is a life-saving test," said SMH Lung Cancer Screening Program Coordinator Amie Miller, ARNP, an advanced oncology certified nurse practitioner. "If we can diagnose lung cancer at the earliest stages, it's going to make a huge impact."

Should Get You Screened for Lung Cancer?


Talk to your doctor about lung-cancer screening if:

  • You are 50 to 80 years old.

  • You are a current tobacco smoker or former smoker who quit in the last 15 years.

  • You have a 20 pack-year smoking history (smoking an average of 1 pack per day for 20 or more years). See below for more on what “pack year” means.

What Is Lung Cancer Screening?

Lung cancer screening is performed using imaging technology called Low-Dose Computed Tomography (LDCT). 

“It’s the easiest cancer screening test you’ll ever have,” Miller said.

Low-dose CT screening is fast and painless. There are no injections or IVs, nothing to drink and nothing invasive. You simply lie on a table for a few minutes and hold your breath twice, while the machine performs its scan.

Afterward, a physician or technician will discuss your test results with you.

Click here to learn what to expect during LDCT lung cancer screening.

For patients meeting the federal eligibility criteria, lung cancer screening is typically covered 100% by major insurances and Medicare, just like mammograms and colonoscopies. If you're considering the screening, confirm coverage with your insurer.

Who’s Now Eligible for Lung Cancer Screening? 

Previous recommendations for lung cancer screening restricted eligibility to adults age 55 to 80 who had a 30 pack-year smoking history and still smoked or had quit within 15 years.

What's a ‘Pack Year’?


A "pack-year" is a calculation care providers use to gauge a patient's lung cancer risk based on how much they have smoked in their lifetime. The more you smoke, the higher your risk for developing cancer.

To calculate pack-years, multiply the average number of cigarette packs smoked per day by the number of years the person has smoked. 

For example:

  • Smoking 1 pack of cigarettes each day for 1 year would equate to 1 pack-year.
    (1 pack per day x 1 year = 1 pack-year)
  • Smoking 2 packs per day for 1 year would equal 2 pack-years.
    (2 packs per day x 1 year = 2 pack-years)
  • Smoking 1 pack per day for 20 years equals 20 pack-years.
    (1 pack per day x 20 years = 20 pack-years)
  • Smoking a half-pack per day for 40 years would also equal 20 pack-years.
    (0.5 packs per day x 40 years = 20 pack-years)

“Unfortunately, we see a lot of lung cancer patients who do not fit that prior criteria,” said SMH Critical Care Pulmonologist Joseph Seaman, MD. 

In response, the Preventive Services Task Force expanded lung-cancer screening eligibility criteria and recommendations earlier this year. 

Now, annual LDCT lung cancer screening is recommended for adults age 50 to 80 who have a 20 pack-year smoking history and currently smoke or quit within the last 15 years.

With the lower minimum age (50 instead of 55) and reduced number of pack-years (20 instead of 30), the new guidelines mean roughly 6.5 million more at-risk individuals can be prescribed annual lung cancer screening and given a better chance at beating lung cancer.

"This is certainly going to cast a much wider net, helping us to detect lung cancer at its earliest stages, when its most treatable," said Miller. "Ultimately, it's going to save about 10,000 to 20,000 more lives every year."

At Sarasota Memorial's Brian D. Jellison Cancer Institute, physicians are already seeing a positive impact from the new guidelines, diagnosing lung cancers much earlier for their patients, Dr. Seaman said.

“And not only is it treatable at these early stages,” he added. “it's curable.”

Get Screened

To find out whether lung cancer screening is right for you or tolearn more about LDCT screening at the Jellison Cancer Institute, call 941-917-5864 (LUNG) or click here.

Posted: Nov 2, 2021,
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Author: Ann Key