The American Cancer Society has released an updated guideline that significantly broadens its recommendations for lung cancer screening in the United States.
Nearly 5 million more Americans are now advised to get annual CT scans to detect the disease early, regardless of how long ago they quit smoking.
Previously, screening was only recommended for those who smoked heavily and quit within the past 15 years. But the new guideline eliminates duration since quitting as a factor, meaning many more older adults with a substantial smoking history should now get screened.
Screening Now Recommended Up To Age 80 For Smokers
Under the updated recommendations, the American Cancer Society advises annual lung cancer screening for current or former heavy smokers ages 50 to 80, so long as they have at least a 20 pack-year smoking history.
A pack-year means smoking an average of one pack per day for a year. Prior guidelines used both age and how recently someone quit smoking to determine eligibility.
The change reflects newer research showing smoking-related lung cancer risk persists later into life, even decades after quitting, warranting expanded screening.
Modeling Predicts More Lives Saved Through Broader Screening
By including older former smokers, the American Cancer Society estimates its new recommendations could prevent up to 21% more lung cancer deaths compared to current guidelines.
Since risk increases with age, screening more adults in their 60s, 70s and 80s is expected to detect many more cancers in earlier, more treatable stages.
The group last updated its lung screening guidance in 2013. The push to expand eligibility comes amid low screening rates nationwide.
Disparities Persist Among Minority Groups
Lung cancer disproportionately impacts communities of color, who face barriers to screening access. Experts say expanded eligibility must be paired with outreach to marginalized groups.
Black Americans develop lung cancer younger despite less smoking history, pointing to genetic and environmental factors. Tailored screening and awareness programs are needed to curb disparities.
Simply broadening guidelines won’t alone close gaps without ensuring equitable screening delivery, researchers emphasize.
Updating Guidance to Reflect New Evidence
The American Cancer Society based its updated recommendations on mounting evidence that risk extends well beyond 15 years after quitting, said guideline author Dr. Robert Smith.
“Essentially as long as an individual has a 20 or greater pack-year history and they’re between the ages of 50 and 80, and in reasonably good health, they will be eligible for screening according to our guidelines,” he stated.
The revisions align with newer modeling studies highlighting the benefits of expanding eligibility among former smokers.
Contrasts With USPSTF Recommendations
While influenced by evolving research, the new guidelines differ from those released in 2021 by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.
The task force kept its recommendation of screening for adults aged 50-80 who smoked heavily and quit within the past 15 years. It has not indicated plans to update its advice.
The American Cancer Society’s broader screening recommendation reflects differences in its review of the evidence.
Opportunity to Increase Public Awareness
Experts say the updated American Cancer Society guidance presents a chance to educate around the importance of early lung cancer detection.
Currently only about 10-15% of eligible adults get screened. Wider promotion of screening can save lives amid low awareness and participation.
Outreach should specifically target marginalized communities bearing the greatest lung cancer burden.
Screening Methods and Technology Improving
Low-dose CT scans remain the only recommended lung cancer screening test under the new recommendations.
But the American Cancer Society says CT technology enhancements allow screening with less radiation exposure compared to years past.
Continued improvements in early detection methods make broader screening eligibility feasible and beneficial based on risk-benefit assessment.
Shining Light on Misconceptions Around Lung Cancer
Some view lung cancer as an automatic death sentence, but experts emphasize early screening can effectively detect tumors before they spread.
“The most prevalent misconception about lung cancer is that it is a death sentence. In reality, most lung cancers can be detected early through screening, and most patients with early-detected lung cancers can be saved,” said Dr. Raja Flores.
The new guidelines help refute outdated notions by highlighting screening’s life-saving potential for more patients.