New recommended lung screening guidelines for smokers could double eligibility

Health

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is recommending new lung cancer screening guidelines for smokers.

If approved, it would dramatically expand testing to younger Americans who haven’t been smoking as long. Experts say that it could nearly double the number of people eligible for a CT scan and save thousands of lives.

CT scans can detect nodules or spots indicating the very early signs of lung cancer. Dr. Patrick Nana-Sinkam, an M.D. Pulmonologist at VCU Massey Cancer Center says it can do this in a matter of seconds.

“It’s a fancy chest x-ray,” said Dr. Nana-Sinkam.

The low radiation lung screening could soon be covered by insurance for many more Americans. The new recommended guidelines call for lowering the eligibility age from 55 to 50 and reducing the number of years averaging a pack of cigarettes a day from 30 to 20.

“With the new guidelines, we recognize we will probably save about 30-50 thousands lives,” says Nana-Sinkam.

Studies show in the U.S. there is one lung cancer death ever three minutes. “Lung cancer is one of the most lethal cancers in the world,” says Dr. Mark Parker, a radiologist and the director of the Lung Cancer Screening Program at VCU Health. 

Dr. Parker says this could have a significant impact on women and African Americans who tend to develop lung cancer earlier and with less smoke exposure. “No one deserves cancer,” he said.

CT scans can also detect heart disease and emphysema. Sometimes the scans can reveal much more, as in the case of Richmond resident Anna Carter.

“I want to cry. It scared me a lot,” said Carter, reflecting back. She was a smoker for 35 years, her mother died of emphysema. It prompted her to get tested. She was stunned by what her lung screening revealed.

“One of the incidental findings was they saw a mass on my kidney,” Carter said.

CT scans show the entire torso and sometimes pick up other life-threatening diseases. Doctors say Carter’s lung screening looks normal but that mass they found on her kidney led to an ultrasound. And, that ultrasound then led to the findings of two massive cysts on her ovaries.

“I was in surgery within six days of that,” Carter explained. She credits that first CT scan with saving her life. “I have no idea what would have happened to me if I hadn’t done that,” she said. Carter told 8News she’s doing great now.

The new recommendations will undergo a public review in just a few days. Doctors say it is likely the new guidelines will go forward.

Patients who go in for lung screenings at VCU Health are offered a unique experience. They get the results of their test that day and smoking cessation counselors are on hand help with anyone who suddenly wants to quit the habit.

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