He and other researchers also said that patients may miss lung cancer screening simply because they don’t know about it. It hasn’t received as much attention as other cancer screening exams like mammograms, colonoscopies, and Pap tests. Some doctors may not recommend it as strongly, and especially for ex-smokers who may not take the time to compute a patient’s smoking history to see if it meets guidelines.
The guidelines state that people with a history of 20 “packing years” should be screened. The term “one pack per year” refers to smoking one pack of 20 cigarettes a day for a year – or two packs a day for half a year, or half a pack a day for two years. So 20 pack years would include people who smoked two packs a day for 10 years or half a pack a day for 40 years.
The changes in criteria for smoking history and screening age were based on new data from multiple studies, said Dr. Alex H. Krist, Task Force Chair and Professor of Family Medicine and Population Health at Virginia Commonwealth University, in an interview.
“Lung cancer is number 1 in America,” said Dr. Krist, adding that with the new data, we have even more confidence that screening will save lives.
Like other types of screenings hit by the pandemic, those for lung cancer remain below 2019 levels, according to an analysis of Medicare data from Avalere Health, a consulting firm conducted for the Community Oncology Alliance that specializes in independent cancer represents.
While the number of screenings began to rise again in the summer, the recent surge in Covid cases dropped them again later in the year. In November, screenings were down 30 percent from 2019, and the number of lung biopsies had also decreased, indicating no cases were diagnosed.
Using its own scoring system, the Task Force gave its recommendation a B and said there was “moderate certainty” that the annual screening would have “moderate net benefit.”