In The News: Updates to Widespread Lung Cancer Screening Linked to Improved Survival

Last updated: May 2023

Lung cancer causes more deaths than any other kind of cancer. However, studies show that lung cancer screening can save lives. And the earlier the screening, the better.1-3

The purpose of screening is to detect lung cancer before you develop symptoms. Catching lung cancer early on increases your chance of being cured. Unfortunately, screening rates are low. Less than 6 percent of eligible people in the United States have been screened for lung cancer.1-4

Lung cancer screening saves lives

Research shows lung cancer screening programs lead to earlier diagnosis and improved survival. Long-term screening data were presented at the 2022 annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America. People diagnosed with early-stage lung cancer through screening were followed for 20 years.4-8

Overall, 8 out of 10 people diagnosed with early-stage lung cancer were still alive 20 years after diagnosis. For certain types of tumors, every single person was still alive after 20 years. This data shows that when lung cancer is found early, it can be cured.5,6

Screening programs began in 2013. Since then, trends in lung cancer diagnosis and survival have improved. Over the past 5 years, there has been a 17 percent increase in early diagnosis of lung cancer and a 21 percent increase in survival rates. Experts believe finding lung cancer earlier through screening has saved over 10,000 lives since 2013.4,7,8

Risks of not screening

Without screening, most lung cancers are found after cancer has spread to other parts of the body (metastasized). In the general population, half of all people diagnosed with lung cancer die within 1 year. And 5 years after diagnosis, only one-quarter of people are still alive.5,6

Who should get screened?

Experts recommend yearly screening for people over 50 at high risk for lung cancer. Different organizations have slightly different recommendations.1-4

Smoking is the leading risk factor for lung cancer, but anyone with lungs can get lung cancer. Doctors must consider this factor, though, and use a calculation called "pack years" to describe how much a person has smoked in their lifetime. Pack years equals the number of packs per day times the number of years of smoking. You are considered high risk if you are over 50 and have at least a 20 pack year history of smoking.1-4

While smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, you can get lung cancer even if you do not smoke. Up to 20 percent of people diagnosed with lung cancer do not smoke. Other risk factors for lung cancer include:1,2,4

  1. Radon exposure
  2. Occupational exposure to cancer-causing agents, including silica, asbestos, arsenic, diesel fumes, and coal smoke
  3. Family history of lung cancer
  4. History of any cancer – especially lymphoma and head and neck cancer
  5. History of lung disease – COPD and pulmonary fibrosis
  6. Exposure to secondhand smoke
  7. Exposure to air pollution

Talk to your doctor about screening if you have any of these risk factors.

What is the best lung cancer screening test?

The best screening test is low-dose computed tomography (CT). Low-dose CT uses small amounts of radiation to take pictures of the inside of the lungs. The amount of radiation used is very low, about the same as 15 chest X-rays. Studies show that low-dose CT is much better than chest X-rays at finding small lung tumors.1-3,9

Are there risks of getting screened?

As with any screening test, patients can recieve false positive or false negative results.2

  • False positive means that test results are abnormal and you need further testing, but there is no cancer. The harms of false positive results include distress, additional procedures, and added cost.2
  • False negative means that cancer is present, but the test does not detect it. False negative results mean an early diagnosis is missed. This could lead someone to ignore early warning signs.2
  • Reducing the risks

    Doctors reduce the chance of false positive and false negative results by only screening people at high risk. The benefits of screening outweigh the risks for people at high risk for lung cancer.2


    If you have questions about whether you should get screened for lung cancer, talk to your doctor. The following resources may also help:2,10-12

  • National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) – Lung cancer screening guidelines
  • American Lung Association – Lung cancer screening resources
  • Lungevity – Screening and early detection
  • GO2 for Lung Cancer – New screening guidelines
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