Guidance on CT Lung Cancer Screening

(April 23, 2012)

Many of us have read in the news about low-dose computed tomography (CT) screening to detect lung cancer. And many questions have surfaced. How effective is it? Who should get screened? The American Lung Association has released new interim guidelines to help physicians, their patients and the public in their discussions about lung cancer screening.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for both men and women in the United States. The five-year survival rate for lung cancer patients is only 15 percent. Recent research from the National Cancer Institute National Lung Cancer Screening Trial (NLST) found that low-dose CT shows promise as a method for detecting lung cancer in highest risk individuals, who have not yet shown symptoms. This method has been shown to reduce deaths by 20 percent compared to chest X-ray.

Screening recommendations
Based on the NLST findings, the American Lung Association recommends lung cancer screening with low-dose CT scans for people who meet certain criteria, which include the following: current or former smokers (aged 55 to 74 years), with a smoking history of at least 30 pack-years (that is, an average of a pack a day for 30 years) and with no history of lung cancer.

The Lung Association emphasizes that only CT scans are recommended and that chest X-rays should not be used for lung cancer screening.

The Lung Association recognizes that while low dose CT scans may save lives, screening for lung cancer should not be recommended for everyone as many known and unknown risks may be associated with both the screening and subsequent medical evaluation.

Not smoking is best prevention
“Never starting smoking and quitting smoking still remains the best way to prevent lung cancer. People having their homes tested for radon is also important, as radon exposure can increase the risk of lung cancer,” states Norman H. Edelman, MD, American Lung Association Chief Medical Officer.

The Lung Association report also recommends:

  • Patients should be referred to facilities that have experience in conducting low dose CT scans.
  • These facilities should have multidisciplinary teams that can provide comprehensive follow-up.
  • Hospitals and screening centers should establish ethical policies for advertising and promoting lung cancer CT screening services.

The American Lung Association is pleased to endorse this clinical prevention strategy that can save many lives. The Lung Association will continue to fight to reduce tobacco exposure, fight for clean air, and fight to find cures for lung disease such as lung cancer.

The full American Lung Association Interim Report on Lung Cancer Screening and related educational materials are available here.

Learn more about lung cancer, help with treatment decisions and finding support here.