New guidelines mean more smokers than ever can get screened for lung cancer. During November — Lung Cancer Awareness Month — doctors are emphasizing the recommendations and coverage for lung cancer screening with low-dose computed tomography (LDCT).
Experts encourage more smokers to take advantage of these changes and potentially detect cancer earlier, saving more lives. As many as 12,000 smokers and former smokers in the ThedaCare service area are now eligible to get lung cancer screenings — more than double the number (5,000) from a year ago.
“Lung cancer is the most lethal of cancers, but there are better health outcomes with an early diagnosis. The survival rate improves dramatically,” says Dr. William Conkright, Oncologist/Hematologist with ThedaCare Cancer Care.
If caught early (stage 1), there is a 60% survival rate within the first five years. Sadly, most people are diagnosed in the advanced stages of the disease when it has spread to other parts of the body. At that point, there is just a 6% chance of living.
The most recent statistics show 225,000 new cases of lung cancer among Americans each year and about 160,000 deaths from the disease.
Doctors anticipate those numbers dropping with new recommendations from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and expanded national coverage determination by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
The new guidelines and eligibility lower the starting age for screening from 55 to 50 years and reduce the tobacco smoking history from at least 30 packs per year to at least 20 packs per year. An annual screening is recommended until a person stops smoking for 15 years.
Dr. Conkright suggests smokers talk with their primary care provider or a pulmonologist or oncologist to see if they qualify for a screening under these new guidelines.
Some calculation is involved in determining eligibility. You don’t have to be a heavy smoker to qualify. For example, if you smoked a half a pack of cigarettes for 40 years, you may get screened now. On the opposite end, you could have smoked two packs per day for 10 years and qualify. In both cases, you need to be 50 years of age or older and either continue to smoke or have stopped smoking less than 15 years ago.
The only recommended screening test for lung cancer is LDCT, a unique CT scan technique that combines special X-ray equipment with sophisticated computers to produce multiple cross-sectional images of the inside of the body.
Next to screenings, Dr. Conkright says the best prevention advice he can give smokers is, “Stop smoking! A cessation program is the best way to avoid lung cancer.”
He also advises patients to be truthful about how much they smoke. “Admit how much you actually smoke; under-reporting can disqualify you from this potentially life-saving screening.”
Smoking is still the greatest risk factor in developing lung cancer, so awareness, prevention and early diagnosis all play parts in reducing the lung cancer death rate, Dr. Conkright says.
Lung Cancer Screening Events
- Register for an onsite presentation by Dr. Conkright Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022, at 9 a.m. It will take place in the third-floor conference room at Encircle Health in Appleton. To register to attend, call (920) 364-3618 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, date of birth and phone number. Space is limited. Please register by Friday, Oct. 28, 2022.
- Interact with the Mega Lungs exhibit in the atrium at ThedaCare Regional Cancer Center-Appleton. The event will take place on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Staff will be on hand to answer questions and provide information on lung screenings.
Know your risk.
Learn more about lung cancer care at ThedaCare.