New Lung Cancer Screening Guidelines Mean More At-Risk Patients Can Now Be Screened

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid recently adopted new guidelines for lung cancer screening, changing the age at which men and women should start screening and expanding criteria for smoking history.

Eligibility criteria for someone to start screening has been lowered, from 55 to age 50. The cumulative amount of cigarettes smoked, which is calculated in “pack years,” has also been lowered to a smoking history of at least 20 pack years, instead of the previous 30 pack years (see the complete list of guidelines below).

“These updated government guidelines are absolutely needed,” says Shiraz Daud, MD, Missouri Baptist Medical Center pulmonologist. “The main thing to understand about lung cancer is that it is the most lethal cancer in the United States. More people die from lung cancer than they do from the next three most prevalent cancers combined — breast, colon and prostate cancer.

“When lung cancer is found early, more options for treatment are available. In the early stages, lung cancer has minimal to no symptoms. By screening at-risk patients, we can find early cancers and treat them.”

In a reported study, low-radiation-dose CT (LDCT) lung cancer screening has been shown to reduce lung cancer deaths by 20% to 33% in high-risk populations. It is estimated that following the new government screening guidelines could save an additional 10,000 to 20,000 lives each year.

“Getting a lung cancer screening is a highly effective tool in finding lung cancer before symptoms start, and it provides a better chance to find a cure,” Dr. Daud says. “This screening could save your life.”

An LDCT scan can detect lung cancer at its earliest stages, making treatment both easier and more effective — and early detection is the key to beating any cancer. Such screening is only appropriate for people who may be at higher risk for lung cancer due to their history of smoking.

An LDCT scan of the chest to screen for lung cancer is like a mammography screening for breast cancer. Both can detect cancer in its early stages and save lives.

Should You Be Screened?

People with a history of cigarette smoking have a high risk of lung cancer. In fact, tobacco use accounts for almost 90% of all lung cancers. The more cigarettes you smoke per day and the earlier you started smoking, the greater your risk of lung cancer.

Not everyone should be screened for lung cancer. Government guidelines, updated in February 2022, recommend a lung cancer screening if you meet the following criteria:

  1. You are between 50 and 77 years old.

  2. You have a smoking history of at least “20 pack-years”:


  1. You are a current smoker or have quit within the last 15 years.

Next Steps if You Meet the Criteria Above:
  1. You will need to talk with your doctor to decide if screening is right for you.

  2. A doctor’s order is required to be scheduled for screening.

Where to get screened

BJC HealthCare offers multiple lung cancer screening locations throughout the St. Louis area, including eastern Missouri and southern Illinois.

Being screened is important for your health. Significant strides have been made in lung cancer treatment, and early detection plays a vital role in a positive outcome. As with any form of cancer, early detection is the key to survival. Lung cancer treatments may include surgery, radiation treatments, chemotherapy or one of several interventional radiology procedures. Discuss lung cancer risks, symptoms and treatment options with your doctor.

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