Published on November 2, 2023
Yesterday, the American Cancer Society (ACS) released new lung cancer screening guidelines, recommending lung cancer screening for nearly five million more people. Under the new guidelines, screening is recommended for people who:
ACS’ previous guidelines had a smaller age range and higher pack-year history requirement, and only applied to those who still smoked or had quit within the past 15 years
The most significant change in the updated guidelines is that the number of years since quitting smoking will no longer be relevant for starting or stopping yearly lung cancer screening, thereby removing barriers for many to get the screening they need. Under the new guidelines, anyone who smokes or used to smoke and has at least a 20 pack-year history is considered to be at high risk for developing lung cancer and should get screened annually. Anyone who stopped getting screened for lung cancer after 15 years (the previously recommended cutoff) should resume getting screened.
The new guidelines from ACS are more closely aligned with guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), a group of medical experts who establish recommendations on certain health services, such as cancer screenings. However, the current USPSTF guidelines apply only to people who smoke or quit within the past 15 years. The Prevent Cancer Foundation urges the USPSTF to remove this restriction from lung cancer screening eligibility so insurers will be required to cover (without cost-sharing) screening services for more people per the Affordable Care Act.
The Prevent Cancer Foundation strongly supports the new guidance from ACS so we can find more lung cancers in earlier, more treatable stages and achieve better outcomes. However, regardless of recommendations, there is low uptake for lung cancer screening, with less than 6% of previously eligible people in the U.S. having been screened. According to the Foundation’s 2023 Early Detection Survey, there is significant confusion about who is eligible for lung cancer screening and what screening for the disease looks like, which has resulted in national screening rates far below the averages for other cancer types.
While updated guidance may expand access to the number of people eligible for lung cancer screening, continuing to educate people about screening and eligibility requirements will further address low lung cancer screening rates. Additionally, expanding access and education to disproportionately impacted groups—including racial and ethnic minorities and rural communities—is necessary to reduce disparities and achieve better outcomes across all populations.
Early Detection = Better Outcomes. For more information on lung cancer, screening information and ways to reduce your risk, visit www.preventcancer.org/lung.
*A pack year is an estimate of how much a person has smoked over time. The number of packs of cigarettes smoked every day is multiplied by the number of years a person has smoked that amount. Example: a person who smoked 1 pack a day for 20 years has a history of 1 x 20 = 20 pack years.