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Chest Physicians Recommend Yearly CT Scans for Older Heavy Smokers

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The American College of Chest Physicians this week recommended that older, heavy smokers receive annual low-dose CT scans to detect lung cancer, according to Reuters.

The recommendation is aimed at current smokers ages 55 to 74 with more than 30 “pack-years” of smoking, or former heavy smokers who quit within the last 15 years. A pack-year is defined as smoking 20 cigarettes daily for one year. An estimated 7 million Americans fall into these categories, chest physician David Midthun of the Mayo Clinic told Reuters.

In 2011, a study of 53,000 current or former heavy smokers concluded that CT scans reduce deaths from lung cancer in this group by 20 percent, compared with no screening or with X-rays. CT scans can find smaller, earlier lesions that are more likely to be cured by surgery than those found with X-rays.

Other medical groups have issued differing recommendations on CT scanning for smokers. In 2012, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network advised that people 50 and older who had at least 20 pack-years of smoking, plus one additional risk factor, such as having chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, also be screened.

Dr. Frank Detterbeck, Chief of Thoracic Surgery at Yale University School of Medicine, cautioned that entrepreneurs may offer free CT screening, which can produce findings that lead to more costly tests and procedures, but ultimately do not detect cancer. “You find a lot of things and most of them are nothing,” he said. These tests will cause worry, more tests and invasive biopsies, which are often conducted using a long needle inserted through the chest wall.

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