Smokers older than 50 should undergo annual lung cancer screening, according to a federally appointed health care task force. Photo courtesy of Max Pixel/Pixabay
March 9 (UPI) -- Long-time smokers older than 50 should be screened for lung cancer annually, according to recommendations from a federally appointed healthcare task force published Tuesday by JAMA.
Even if smokers quit, annual screening for the deadly disease should continue for up to 15 years after they have stopped the habit, said the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent group of 16 physicians and scientists.
Previously, the group had recommended annual screening for smokers older than 55, in guidance published in 2013.
As a result of the change, roughly 15 million people, nearly twice the current number, are recommended for annual scans using low-dose computed tomography, or CT, they said.
"The revised ... recommendations are sound and based on well-conceived evidence and modeling studies, but they alone are not enough, as we have seen limited uptake of the prior recommendations," Dr. Ethan Basch, a professor of medical oncology at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, said in a press release.
"Implementation will require broader efforts by payers, health systems and professional societies, and, in the future, a more tailored, individual risk prediction approach may be preferable," said Basch, who was not part of the task force but co-authored a related commentary.
Lung cancer kills more than 135,000 people in the United States each year, with smokers at increased risk for the disease, according to the National Cancer Institute.
About 20% of those diagnosed with the disease survive for five years or more, with those diagnosed earlier generally having better prognoses, the task force said.
With that in mind, the group is recommending that adults age 50 to 80 who have smoked about a pack of cigarettes a day for 20 years undergo screening for lung cancer with low-dose CT.
A low-dose CT scan is a quick, painless, non-invasive method that uses no dyes or injections, and requires nothing to swallow by mouth, according to Swedish Health in Washington state.
The scan itself takes less than a minute to complete and essentially provides three-dimensional X-ray images of the lungs to spot cancerous growths, the health system explains.
Although the changing recommendations theoretically mean that lung cancer screening will be available to more people, it is likely that inequities will remain, Basch and his colleagues said.
"Medicaid is not required to cover the ... recommended screenings and even when screening is covered, Medicaid programs may use different eligibility criteria," one of his co-authors, Louise M. Henderson, said in a press release.
This is problematic because people who receive Medicaid are twice as likely to be current smokers than those with private insurance, said Henderson, a professor of radiology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.