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Who should be screened for lung cancer?

Dr. Behrooz Shabahang, MD
Cardiothoracic Surgeon

People who should receive lung cancer screening are current smokers and former smokers who have quit in the past 15 years and are between the ages of 55 and 80 with a smoking history of at least 30 pack years. The American Cancer Society defines 30 pack years as:

  • One pack a day for 30 years 
  • Two packs a day for 15 years
Dr. Neal Chuang, MD
Cardiothoracic Surgeon

Screening for lung cancer is recommended for people aged 55 to 79 who have at least a 30 pack-year smoking history. To calculate a person’s smoking pack-years, multiply the number of packs smoked per day by the number of years that were spent smoking. For example, a person who smoked a pack a day for 30 years would have 30 pack-years, and a person who smoked two packs a day for 15 years would also have 30 pack-years (2 x 15 = 30). Both smoking histories would qualify a person for annual lung cancer-screening. Also, if people have quit smoking, they must have quit within the last 15 years in order to qualify for annual screening.

Dr. Alla Gimelfarb, MD
Hematologist & Oncologist
The answer to this question has changed in the last several months.  For many years, we did not have a screening tool to screen for lung cancer.  However, in the recent months, advances in clinical research have shown us that screening with low-dose CTs have saved people's lives.  At this point, since the studies are very recent, there are no national guidelines about exactly who should be screened for lung cancer.  However, based on the trials, the people who are screened for lung cancer are patients with a long-term smoking history.  Here at Northshore University Health Systems, we are implementing a protocol for screening of lung cancer in long-term smokers or patients who have quit smoking but have smoked in the past.  It is important that you talk to your primary care doctor about screening for lung cancer with low-intensity CTs.

The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) now recommends that long-term smokers be screened for lung cancer, even if they have no symptoms. Specifically, the USPSTF says that people age 55 to 79 who have a 30-pack-year history of smoking--"pack years" are the number of years you smoke multiplied by the number of packs you smoke per day--and who have smoked in the past 15 years, should have a low-dose CT scan every year. Low-dose CT is the only test recommended for lung cancer screening.

Dr. Raja M. Flores, MD
Cardiothoracic Surgeon

Patients who have smoked, were exposed to second hand smoke or asbestos, or have other risk factors should be screened for lung cancer. In this video, Raja Flores, MD, thoracic surgeon, describes a lung cancer screening.

Dr. Darria Long Gillespie, MD
Emergency Medicine Specialist
Most expert organizations (USPTF, American College of Chest Physicians, American Cancer Society)  recommend annual screening in "high risk" patients: those who meet all THREE criteria; are ages 55-74, have a 30 pack-year history of smoking, and currenly still smoke or quit in the last 15 years.

People who smoke, who smoked in the past, or who have been exposed to secondhand smoke, as well as those who have worked around materials that increase the risk for lung cancer need to be aware of their increased lung cancer risk. They should talk to their doctors about their chances of getting lung cancer and the pros and cons of lung cancer screening.

CT screening is currently recommended for men and women over the age of 60 who have a smoking history equivalent to 10 pack years (smoked one pack a day for 10 years, 2 packs a day for 5 years).

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.