Fewer than 4% of High-Risk Current and Former Smokers Get Screened for Lung Cancer, Study Finds

Fewer than 4% of High-Risk Current and Former Smokers Get Screened for Lung Cancer, Study Finds

Despite recommendations that high-risk current and former smokers be more frequently screened, lung cancer screening rates remained unchanged and very low among eligible patients in 2015, says new research showing that fewer than 4 percent are receiving recommended screening.

The study, “Lung Cancer Screening With Low-Dose Computed Tomography in the United States—2010 to 2015,” was written by American Cancer Society investigators and published in JAMA Oncology.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force updated its guidelines in December 2013, recommending yearly screening for lung cancer using low-dose computed tomography (LDCT).

The recommendation focused on people 55 to 80 years old, with a pack-year smoking history of at least 30. Pack-year smoking history is calculated by multiplying the number of packs a day by how many years people reported smoking. The update came after the National Lung Screening Trial (NLST) revealed that closely tracking this high-risk population could potentially cut mortality by 20 percent.

The 2010 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) found that only 2 to 4 percent of high-risk smokers had been screened with LCDT the previous year.

To see if the 2013 recommendation update had changed the numbers, the authors compared answers from the NHIS between 2010 and 2015 – including just the answers of those who would be eligible for screening under the updated recommendations – and found the proportion of people being screened using LCDT technology remained low and stable: 3.3 percent in 2010 and 3.9 percent in 2015.

This means that, of the reportedly 6.8 million current and former smokers that should have been screened in 2015, only 262,700 were actually screened.

The authors claim their findings underscore the need to educate clinicians and those at risk about the importance of screening for lung cancer.

“The reasons for the low uptake in screening are probably varied, and likely include lack of knowledge among both smokers and doctors as to screening recommendations as well as access to high quality screening,” study leader Ahmedin Jemal DVM, PhD, said in a press release. “Our previous study showed implementing quality screening broadly across the U.S. could prevent about 12,000 lung cancer deaths every year in the short term. But we cannot prevent those deaths until and unless we start educating eligible smokers as well as clinicians about the benefits and risks of screening, so patients can make an informed decision.”

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