Soon 10 million American tobacco smokers could be getting annual CT scans to look for lung cancer. That's if we go the way of a just-released draft of a recommendation from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which portends potential for tens of thousands of cancer deaths averted.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States, and most people diagnosed with smoking-related lung cancer die from it. Still 37 percent of U.S. adults are current or former smokers. This new recommendation would apply to people between 55 and 80 years old who smoked (at least a pack a day) for 30 cumulative years, even if they quit smoking long ago.
Here's the risk/benefit breakdown they cite, which you can click through to enlarge. And here's an online module from Memorial Sloan-Kettering made to tell if you might be a candidate for screening.
So, why is this even a question? Why don't we just screen everyone for lung cancer? Why don't we screen everyone with full-body CT scans every year? Every month? Week, day?
1. CT scans involve ionizing radiation, which itself causes cancer. Roughly one in 10,000 screening CTs will actually cause a cancer that eventually kills the person. They're invaluable diagnostic tools, but not worth doing on a whim.