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New Study Suggests Different Screening Intervals for Men and Women

A presentation given at the European Lung Cancer Conference (ELCC) 2017 proposes that women may be able to be screened less frequently than men for lung cancer. The controversial presentation was based on results from a study out of the Asan Medical Center in Seoul, Korea. Researchers analyzed 17 years of data from low-dose CT lung cancer screenings between 2000 to 2016. What they found was evidence pointing towards the safety of longer intervals between screenings for women. The researchers assert that it may be possible for women to move to being screened once every three years, while men remain at once a year, due to more favorable characteristics of lung cancer in women. Increasing the time between screening intervals could lead to saving much time, money, and worry for patients, as well as exposure to unnecessary radiation.

Women May Need Screening Less Frequently Than Men

“Our study suggests that the annual follow-up interval for CT is too frequent for women, and scans every 2 to 3 years might be suitable. By reducing the number of unnecessary CT scans, we can decrease radiation exposure and increase cost effectiveness.”
-Lead author, Mi-Young Kim, MD, a radiologist at the University of Ulsan College of Medicine, Asan Medical Center, Seoul, Korea1

Currently, it is recommended that both males and females between 55 and 80 who currently smoke, quit smoking within the last 15 years, or who have a smoking history of 30-pack-years should be screened once a year for lung cancer. These results challenge these guidelines set forth by the US Preventive Services Task Force, by increasing the time between exams for women by three-fold. The screening rate for men was not impacted by the study results. The low number of individuals included and the location-specific nature of the study does have some questioning the validity of the results. The researchers do note these concerns and suggest that their results should be further investigated before updating guidelines and procedures. However, if strengthened, these results could lead to improving personalized screening strategies which can help optimize time, resources, and results.1

Research Data Show Unique Differences Between Men and Women

The researchers analyzed 46,766 individuals who underwent CT screening at the Asian Medical Center during the 17-year study interval. Of these individuals, 96 were isolated as being diagnosed with lung cancer on follow-up screening, and included 85 males and 11 females. All of the females presented with adenocarcinomas, while the males presented with adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, small cell lung cancer, and other pathologies. The males were also much more likely to be smokers (87% vs. 18%) and the average time from previous scan to receiving a diagnosis of lung cancer on a subsequent scan was shorter for men as well (3.1 years vs. 5.6 years). The mean tumor size was also larger in men than women at diagnosis, and fewer men were diagnosed as Stage I than women (49% vs. 82%).

While these results need to be strengthened to support changing official guidelines, they do point toward gender-specific differences in screening needs. These differences could lead to the development of more effective diagnostic procedures in the near future.

  1. Davenport, Liam. “Do women need lung cancer screening less often than men?” Medscape. 8 May 2017. Available from: