Harvard Men's Health Watch

Lung cancer screening now recommended for those at high risk

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has released a draft recommendation that people at high risk for lung cancer should have an annual CT scan to look for hidden disease. The recommendation applies to you if you are 55 to 80 years old and:

  • have smoked the equivalent of a pack a day for 30 years and still smoke

  • smoked the equivalent of a pack a day for 30 years and have quit in the past 15 years. (It takes that long for the risk to fall to average after you quit.)

Research has found that checking for small lung tumors—detectable before a person develops obvious symptoms of lung cancer—can benefit those at highest risk. Current and former smokers at lower risk for cancer may not get as much benefit from screening. This is because they would face repeat testing leading to treatment and false alarms when CT scanning picks up worrisome spots that turn out to be harmless. Anyone considering CT screening for lung cancer should be fully aware of the pros and cons of the decision before making it.

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