One of my many famous sayings is “Ask 3 doctors and you’ll get 4 opinions.” Consensus in medical care can be hard to achieve. This is why you may see varying treatment styles and differing opinions from medical specialty societies. One of the most respected groups making guideline recommendations is the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (a mouthful of a name with an equally cumbersome acronym USPSTF). This is an independent, volunteer panel of national experts who provides evidence-based recommendations on preventive services and screening tests.
Last year, the USPSTF revised their recommendations for lung cancer screening. Lung cancer is sneaky and may not cause any symptoms until the disease has spread (metastasized) and is no longer treatable. Catching this cancer as early as possible can improve the patient’s chances for better quality of life and prolonged survival. Keeping in mind smoking contributes to over 80% of lung cancer cases, the USPSTF focused on screening people with a current or past smoking history.
- Annual screening for lung cancer with chest CAT scan
- In adults aged 50 to 80 years old
- Who have a 20 pack-year smoking history and currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years
- Without a health problem that substantially limits life expectancy
- And with the ability and willingness to have curative lung surgery
Yep, that’s a complicated set of criteria. “Pack-years of smoking” is calculated as the number of packs per day a person smokes multiplied by the number of years they have smoked. So one pack per day for 30 years is 30 pack-years of smoking.
If you are a patient in my practice with a past or current history of smoking, we have already discussed these guidelines together. Please share this blog post with your friends and family that are at increased risk of lung cancer. If they are still smoking, please vigorously encourage them to quit. 10 years after quitting smoking, the risk of lung cancer drops to about half that of a person who is still smoking.