Story at a glance

  • A new research letter revealed that after experts changed eligibility guidelines for lung cancer screening the number of Black women eligible for a screening increased by 50 percent.
  • Black men and women with lung cancer are significantly less likely than white men and women to be diagnosed early.
  • One in 16 Black men and 1 in 20 Black women will be diagnosed with lung cancer in their lifetime.

New lung cancer screening guidelines rolled out last year have increased the eligibility of Black women by 50 percent, according to researchers from Boston University, Northeastern University and the University of California, Berkeley.  

The United States Preventative Services Taskforce, a volunteer panel of experts in preventative and evidence-based medicine, changed their guidelines for lung cancer screenings in April last year by lowering the age of eligibility for lung cancer screenings from 55 to 50 and lowering the required “pack-years” of smoking from 30 to 20, according to a statement.  

The guideline changes were done, partially, to increase the number of Black Americans eligible for a screening “following recognition of their younger age at diagnosis” and higher risk of lung cancer with fewer “pack-years” of smoking than white Americans, according a research letter published in the medical journal JAMA Oncology. 


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Black lung cancer patients are much less likely to be diagnosed early with the disease compared to their white counterparts, according to the American Lung Association. Only 12 percent of Black men and 16 percent of Black women have their cancer diagnosed at an early stage compared to 16 percent and 20 percent of white men and women, respectively.  

Using data from the Boston University’s Black Women’s Health Study, experts reviewed the number of women diagnosed with lung cancers who would have been eligible for a screening under the 2013 guidelines and compared that number to those who were eligible under the amended ones, according to a release.  

Under the 2013 guidelines, 22.7 percent of BWHS lung cancer patients who had a history of smoking would have been eligible for a screening and under the 2021 guidelines, the percentage of women eligible for a screening jumped to 33.9 percent, representing a 50 percent increase in eligibility.  

Experts found removing the requirement for former smokers must have stopped smoking within the past 15 years increased the number of BWHS lung cancer patients who would have been eligible for a screening from 33.9 to 48.2 percent.  

 “Our findings indicate that the new guidelines will markedly increase the proportion of high-risk Black women considered eligible for lung cancer screening and suggest that removing the 15 years since quitting smoking criteria in the current guidelines may result in earlier detection and improved survival for Black women with lung cancer,” said corresponding author Julie Palmer, director of BU’s Slone Epidemiology Center and the Karin Grunebaum Professor in Cancer Research at Boston University School of Medicine. 


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Published on Jan 07, 2022