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New Recommendation for Annual Lung Screenings of Longtime Smokers

(August 6, 2013) —The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) is proposing that older, longtime smokers be screened every year for lung cancer. This would be the first test endorsed by the panel of medical experts for the early detection of lung cancer, the number one cancer killer in the country. The proposal is expected to be approved in the next few months.

“We fully endorse this recommendation,” says Stephen Cattaneo, MD, medical director of thoracic oncology in the DeCesaris Cancer Institute at Anne Arundel Medical Center (AAMC). “It is a major step forward in the fight against lung cancer, and we strongly support its adoption.”

Recent evidence from the large-scale National Lung Screening Trial, and other studies, suggest annual use of the test in the highest-risk smokers and former smokers can significantly reduce the number of people who die from the disease each year. The panel now recommends annual testing for people age 55 to 79 who are current or recent former smokers, and who, on average, have smoked at least a pack of cigarettes per day for 30 years or more.

In Anne Arundel County, the incidence of lung cancer and the mortality rate are significantly higher than the state and nation, making it the second leading cause of death after heart disease. According to the Anne Arundel County Health Department, nearly 300 county residents die each year from lung cancer. On average, about 90 percent of people diagnosed with lung cancer die from the disease. Nationwide, 160,000 Americans die from lung cancer annually. Yearly lung screenings in longtime smokers could save hundreds of lives in Anne Arundel County, and could save as many as 20,000 lives each year in the US.

“While county cancer rates have declined slightly, the high rate of lung cancer is troubling,” states Cattaneo. “By screening older smokers at highest risk annually, we can detect lung cancer earlier when it is more treatable,” adds Cattaneo.

Dr. Barry Meisenberg, AAMC’s chair for Quality Improvement and Healthcare Systems Research, recommends that lung cancer screening not be done in a vacuum. Rather, it should be performed only with careful consideration of other medical problems and individual risk. A standardized comprehensive approach to suspicious findings from the scan should be in place that includes smoking cessation programs for best outcomes. Meisenberg notes that it should be clear that CT screening is not a perfect test and does not replace the need to eliminate smoking. “Eliminating consumption of tobacco, in all its forms, is still the best way to prevent cancer and other the medical problems such as heart disease and emphysema,” said Meisenberg.

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