For most people, reaching certain milestone birthdays means a renewed commitment to health. Women turning 40 usually have their first mammograms. Among men, 40 marks the beginning of prostate exams, and for both sexes, colonoscopies to screen for colorectal cancers and other problems are usually on the calendar beginning in the fifth decade of life.
However, one type of cancer has never been the subject of early detection efforts, despite its high mortality rate. There have never been official screening recommendations for lung cancer, even though the risk factors for the disease are generally well-understood. Beginning this year, doctors will be encouraged to follow new screening recommendations in an attempt to catch lung cancer earlier on and increase the likelihood of successful treatment.
Heavy Smoking Equals Increased Risk
It is of no surprise to anyone at this point that smoking significantly increases the risk of developing lung cancer; according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 90 percent of all lung cancers are caused by smoking cigarettes.
That is why the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force developed new screening guidelines focused specifically on those who have been, or still are, heavy smokers. In short, the new guidelines state that those between the ages of 55 and 80 years old who smoked the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years, and either still smoke or quit within the last 15 years, should be screened for lung cancer annually. The screening involves using low-dose computerized tomography (CT) scans to identify potentially cancerous growths on the lungs before they develop into later stage — and more deadly — tumors.
The USPSTF estimates that by instating these guidelines, the mortality rate for lung cancer would decrease by 15 percent, while bringing the percentage of early stage cancer detection up to 50 percent. In short, the new guidelines are reasonably expected save nearly 500 lives each year. (more…)