US expert panel says lung cancer screenings for smokers should now start at 50

US expert panel says lung cancer screenings for smokers should now start at 50

A leading panel of experts on Tuesday broadened its recommendations for who should get yearly screenings for lung cancer, saying smokers should now start getting screened at age 50. 

The new recommendations from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force will nearly double the number of people eligible for the yearly CT scans to try to detect lung cancer early. 

The recommendations are now for people to get screened if they are aged 50 to 80, who have smoked at least a pack of cigarettes a day for 20 years, and either still smoke or have quit within the past 15 years. 

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Those are broader criteria than the previous recommendations, lowering the age to begin screenings from 55 to 50, and lowering the number of years of smoking history from 30 to 20. 

Under the Affordable Care Act, insurers are required to cover preventive services recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force at no cost to the patient. 

The panel said the changes would make more Black people and women eligible for screenings, and pointed to data showing Black people are at higher risk than white people. 

“The changes to this recommendation mean more Black people and women are now eligible for lung cancer screening, which is a step in the right direction,” Dr. John Wong, a member of the panel, said in a statement. “However, to save more lives and ensure that everyone who would benefit is screened, it is critical that screening is implemented broadly and equitably.” 

Lung cancer kills more people than any other cancer, according to the American Cancer Society, which estimates that about 131,000 people will die from it in the United States in 2021, with about 235,000 new cases.