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November 1, 2022

New Lung Cancer Screening Guidelines

ThedaCare Oncologist and Hematologist Explains the Importance of Early Detection

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. New recommendations and greater coverage for screening with low dose computed tomography (LDCT) are supporting early detection of lung cancer.  

“The hope is these changes in screening guidelines will result in better health outcomes and potentially save more lives,” explained William Conkright, M.D., Oncologist/Hematologist at the ThedaCare Regional Cancer Center. 

In early 2022, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) expanded the national coverage determination for LDCT lung cancer screening, giving more smokers access to the potentially life-saving tool. This follows a U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommendation in 2021 to lower the starting age for this 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. If criteria are met, an annual screening is recommended. Most screenings would not be recommended once a person has quit smoking for 15 years.  

Recent statistics from the National Library of Medicine show there are nearly 225,000 new cases of lung cancer among Americans each year, and about 160,000 deaths from the disease. If caught early (stage 1), there is a 60% survival rate within the first five years of the diagnosis.  

“Sadly, most people are diagnosed in the advanced stages of the disease when it has spread to other parts of the body, or metastasized,” said Dr. Conkright. “The prognosis is not always as positive after that happens.”  

Dr. Conkright noted there is a real opportunity for more smokers to be screened and start treatments early, if a tumor is detected.  

The new recommendations are designed to encourage more smokers to get screened at an earlier age and improved coverage gives more smokers access to LDCT lung cancer screening. 

Dr. Conkright suggests smokers talk with their primary care provider, a pulmonologist or oncologist to see if they qualify for a screening under these new guidelines. Some calculation is involved in determining eligibility. You do not have to be a heavy smoker to qualify. For example, if you smoked a half-a-pack of cigarettes for 40 years, you may now get screened. On the opposite end, you could have smoked two-packs-a-day for 10 years and still 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 computed tomography (CT) scan technique that combines special x-ray equipment with sophisticated computers to produce multiple, cross-sectional images of the inside of the body,” Dr. Conkright explained.  

With November being Lung Cancer Awareness Month, ThedaCare is encouraging eligible smokers to consider a LDCT screening.  

For more information on ThedaCare’s multidisciplinary Lung Cancer Center of Excellence Program – the screening process, diagnostic tools, and treatment options – visit and click on “lung cancer.” 

Community members can also learn more by attending an in-person presentation by Dr. Conkright Saturday, Nov. 5 at 9 a.m. It will take place in the third-floor conference room at Encircle Health in Appleton. To register, call 920-364-3618 or email Please include your name, date of birth and phone number.  

Next to screenings, Dr. Conkright said the best prevention advice he can give smokers is to stop smoking. He also advises patients to be truthful about how much they smoke.  

“We want to encourage our patients to have open and honest conversations with their care teams,” he said. “Often, people feel judged or ashamed about admitting how much they actually smoke. We would want them to be honest so that we can provide the appropriate recommendations when it comes to screenings. At times, those conversations might be difficult, but they could potentially save a person’s life.”  

Dr. Conkright also added that smoking is still the greatest risk factor in developing lung cancer, so awareness, prevention, and early diagnosis all play a part in reducing the lung cancer death rate.   

About ThedaCare 

For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to improving the health and well-being of the communities it serves in Northeast and Central Wisconsin. The organization delivers care to more than 600,000 residents in 17 counties and employs approximately 7,000 health care professionals. ThedaCare has 180 points of care, including eight hospitals. As an organization committed to being a leader in Population Health, team members are dedicated to empowering people to live their unique, best lives. ThedaCare also partners with communities to understand needs, finding solutions together, and encouraging health awareness and action. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a not-for-profit health system with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs, as well as primary care. 

For more information, visit or follow ThedaCare on social media. Members of the media should call Cassandra Wallace, Public and Media Relations Consultant at 920.442.0328 or the ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah switchboard at 920.729.3100 and ask for the marketing person on call.