Northwestern Medicine

National Task Force Recommends Lung Cancer Screening for People at High Risk

July 28, 2013

Northwestern Medicine researchers were the only one in Chicago area to participate in groundbreaking National Lung Cancer Screening Trial

CHICAGO, IL – The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (Task Force) today posted its final evidence report and draft recommendation statement on screening for lung cancer.

The Task Force is providing an opportunity for public comment on this draft recommendation statement until August 26. All public comments will be considered as the Task Force develops its final recommendation.Northwestern Medicine is a partner of the Task Force.

Based on the available evidence, the Task Force recommends screening people who are at high risk for lung cancer with annual low-dose CT scans, which can prevent a substantial number of lung cancer- related deaths. This is a grade B draft recommendation.   Smoking is the biggest risk factor for developing lung cancer, resulting in about 85 percent of lung cancers in the United States. The risk for developing lung cancer also increases with age, with most lung cancers occurring in people age 55 or older.

“The more you smoke over time, the more at risk you are for lung cancer. When deciding who should be screened, clinicians will need to assess the person’s age, overall health, how much the person has smoked, and whether the person is still smoking or how many years it has been since the person quit,” says Task Force co-vice chair Michael LeFevre, MD, MSPH. “This evaluation will help clinicians decide whether it may be beneficial to screen a given person.”

After reviewing the evidence, the Task Force determined that you can reach a reasonable balance of benefits and harms by screening people who are 55 to 80 years old and have a 30 pack year or greater history of smoking, who are either current smokers or have quit in the past fifteen years. A “pack year” means that someone has smoked an average of one pack of cigarettes per day for a year. For example, a person reaches 30 pack years of smoking history by smoking a pack a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years.

“We are happy to see the US Preventive Service Task Force endorse the findings of the National Lung Screening Trial (NLST) and recommend annual screening CTs for people at high risk for lung cancer,” said Malcolm DeCamp, MD, chief of the division of thoracic surgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, professor of surgery at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and member of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. “In terms of lives saved, this intervention represents the most significant advance in the war on lung cancer in the past 50 years. The Northwestern Medicine community should be proud of their leadership role in NLST as the only center in Chicagoland to participate in this life-saving research. "  

“As the Principal Investigator for NLST at Northwestern, my deepest thanks go to all those who volunteered to participate in the trial, both locally and nationwide,” said Eric Hart, MD, radiologist and director of thoracic imaging at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and associate professor of radiology the Feinberg School. “The dedication of our trial participants was the essential first step that lead to the groundbreaking results from NLST, and ultimately to this landmark screening endorsement by the USPSTF. This is excellent, and possibly life saving news, for our patients who at high risk for lung cancer.”

The Task Force’s draft recommendation statement has been posted for public comment. Comments can be submitted from July 30 to August 26.

The criteria developed from the NLST recommends that current and former smokers aged 55 to 74 who have smoked for 30 pack years or more, should be offered low dose CT screening. Prior to the NLST, no screening test for lung cancer had proven effective in reducing lung cancer mortality.
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