KEY POINTS

  • New lung cancer screening guidelines lowered the age of eligibility
  • More women and Black Americans will benefit from it
  • Despite the new guidelines, getting lung cancer patients to submit to the screening remains an obstacle

Women and Black Americans stand to benefit more from new guidelines on lung cancer screenings that were released Tuesday, July 7, by the United States Preventive Services Task Force. The guidelines will also most likely double the number of Americans eligible for the screenings. 

Reports said the revised rules lowered the eligibility age for lung cancer test from 55 to 50. It also reduced the number of years an individual smoked an average of one pack a day, called pack-years, from 30 to 20 years to be eligible for the test. The new guidelines will also mostly result in more Black Americans and women becoming qualified for the screenings.

The American Cancer Society revealed lung cancer is the topmost cause of death in the U.S. for both men and women. The last modification of guidelines for lung cancer screening by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force was in 2013.

According to Dr. Mara Antonoff, a thoracic and cardiovascular surgery professor at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, the change in smoking history to 20 pack years will benefit more women as they tend to develop lung cancer with lesser exposure than men.

Black Americans will also greatly benefit from the age requirement. Dr. Antonoff explained African Americans tend to develop the disease at earlier ages compared to Caucasians.

Dr. John Wong, chief scientific officer at Tufts University and a member of the task force, wants screening to include more people considered high risk. He said based on new evidence, those between 40 and 80 years old with a history of high-risk smoking must undergo the screening.

According to Dr. Bernard Park, the task force conducted a systematic review of the literature, factoring in several modeling studies from the cancer intervention and surveillance network to come up with evidence-based changes. Dr. Park, the deputy chief of thoracic surgery at New York City's Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, praised the methodology used by the task force in updating its guidelines.

However, despite the advantages offered by the new guidelines, getting lung cancer patients to submit to the screening remains an obstacle.

“It's one thing to expand the theoretical pool of those that can be screened,” Park said. “The harder challenge is to actually get those patients screened.”