Guidelines for Lung Cancer Screening
Lung cancer screening is a way to find some lung cancers early, before a person has any symptoms of the cancer.
Lung cancer screening may help those who have the highest risk for lung cancer—people 50 to 55 and older who are or were heavy smokers. For most people, who aren't at increased risk, screening for lung cancer probably isn't helpful.
Screening won't prevent cancer. And it may not find all lung cancers. Lung cancer screening may lower the risk of dying from lung cancer in a small number of people.
Lung cancer screening is recommended for people who are or were heavy smokers. That means people with a smoking history of at least 20 or 30 pack years. A pack year is a way to measure how heavy a smoker you are or were.
To figure out your pack years, multiply how many packs a day on average (assuming 20 cigarettes per pack) you have smoked by how many years you have smoked. For example:
- If you smoked 1 pack a day for 15 years, that's 1 times 15. So you have a smoking history of 15 pack years.
- If you smoked 1 pack a day for 20 years, that's 1 times 20. So you have a smoking history of 20 pack years.
- If you smoked 2 packs a day for 15 years, that's 2 times 15. So you have a smoking history of 30 pack years.
Experts agree that screening is for people who have a high risk of lung cancer. But experts don't agree on what high risk means. Some say people age 50 or older with at least a 20-pack-year smoking history are high risk. Others say it's people age 55 or older with a 30-pack-year history. Experts may also have other rules about who should be screened. For example, here is the guideline from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), which recommends lung cancer screening if:
- You are 55 to 80 years old.
- And you have a smoking history of at least 30 pack years.
- And you still smoke, or you quit within the last 15 years.
- And you are not in poor health overall. (Having a serious health problem might mean that you couldn't have treatment for lung cancer. The treatment could be too high-risk, and it might not help you live longer.)
The USPSTF also recommends that you no longer need lung cancer screening if you have not smoked for 15 years or if you have a serious health problem.