New lung cancer screening guidelines include younger people with shorter smoking histories
New Lung screening guidelines have opened up screening to a wider range of people. (WJAR)

"These new recommendations are going to have a huge impact. It's going to double the number of people eligible for screening," says Dr. Terrance Healey is the director of Thoracic Radiology at Rhode Island Hospital.

And a major proponent of these new guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force which is now recommending CT screening for smokers and former smokers between the ages of 50 and 80 based on pack years.

"You ask a patient how many packs a day do you think you smoked and for how many years,” said Healey.

If you've smoked a pack a day for twenty years, or two packs a day for ten years within the past fifteen years, you qualify for this potentially life-saving screening.

"We can find very small nodules on the chest ct scan,” said Healey. "If we can find lung cancer early, it's very curable."

This screening is especially important if you're African-American or Latino, because our communities of color are disproportionately affected.

"African Americans get cancer at a rate much higher in terms of, they smoke less and get a higher risk of cancer,” said Healey.

Across the board, though, in the past six years since lung cancer screening has been approved, only about 10% of those who qualify have taken advantage, even though it's generally free of charge.

Stigma is one reason. 

 Fear, another.

"The treatments available for lung cancer, even the advanced cancer, has really, really tremendously exploded over the last few years,” said Healey.

Bottom line:

"There's lots of access and I just hope that people that qualify, seek out this life-saving study because there are cures if we find it early,” said Healey.

It's always a good idea to talk to your doctor to see if you should be screened, and, with your insurer to see if it's covered.

Because it's a federal recommendation, it should be covered within the next several months for all who qualify.

For more information on the screen, click here. 

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