Lung Cancer Screening: A Simple Way to Save Lives
What if we could save 25,000 lives with a simple screening?
We can. Lung cancer is the nation’s leading cancer killer of both men and women, accounting for 25 percent of total cancer deaths in the United States. Unfortunately, less than 5 percent of those recommended to undergo lung cancer screening (LCS) for early detection have done so. Why so few? Part of the reason is because the recommendation for LCS is relatively new. To save more lives, we’re taking action to make sure those eligible know about screening and have access to screening.
A main reason why lung cancer is so deadly is because there are no symptoms at an early stage. By the time symptoms arise and the disease is diagnosed, the disease is typically advanced and difficult to treat. Screening can change this, as it allows doctors to more frequently diagnose the disease at an early stage, which can dramatically improve likelihood of surviving five years or more (to as high as 90 percent).
The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends LCS for those considered at high risk: anyone 55 to 80 years old who is a current smoker or quit smoking in the last 15 years and smoked the equivalent of 30 "pack years" (1 pack a day for 30 years, 2 packs for 15 years, or any combination of years and packs that equals 30). You can see if you are considered at high risk for lung cancer through a short screening eligibility quiz at SavedByTheScan.org. I also encourage patients to talk to their doctor if they are concerned about their risk.
While LCS has been proven to find lung cancer at an early stage and has the potential to save thousands of lives, implementing a safe and effective LCS program is a complex endeavor requiring a significant investment in time and resources. These challenges have slowed the widespread initiation of LCS programs in community hospitals and healthcare systems across the country.
Screening has the potential to turn the tide against this deadly disease. The American Lung Association has been raising awareness about this new screening option, but it’s also important to ensure that all those eligible can access screening. This November, just in time for Lung Cancer Awareness Month, the American Lung Association’s LUNG FORCE initiative and American Thoracic Society are excited to unveil our latest collaboration: launching a new website and online toolkit for medical professionals, our Lung Cancer Screening Implementation Guide. This new pragmatic guide and toolkit is now available to address common problems in implementing LCS programs among diverse institutions.
It’s estimated to take a decade for a new medical technique to be fully embraced by the medical community. Our hope is that this guide–now available at LungCancerScreeningGuide.org–will help usher us into the next stage for LCS to become the norm. As more and more institutions roll out LCS programs, we will get closer to realizing the lifesaving potential of LCS for all those considered at high risk.
At the American Lung Association, we’re serious in our fight against lung cancer and will continue to work to ensure we’ve covered every base. We fund lung cancer researchers who work toward innovative breakthroughs in treatment. We provide tools for patients and resources for caregivers. We’ve gathered a community of women and men who stand against lung cancer for lung health through LUNG FORCE. We encourage those at high risk for lung cancer to get screened through our new “Saved By The Scan” campaign and now, we’re helping healthcare systems be ready for them.
Andrea McKee, M.D., serves as co-chair of the lung cancer screening steering committee that developed the Lung Cancer Screening Implementation Guide. Dr. McKee is also division chair of radiation oncology at Lahey Hospital and Medical Center and Assistant Professor at Tufts University School of Medicine.
For more information on the American Lung Association’s initiatives to create a world free of lung disease, visit Lung.org/our-initiatives/.
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