TAMPA, Fla. and BUFFALO, N.Y. – Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States, accounting for almost 25% of all cancer deaths. Despite advances in treatment and successful efforts to reduce smoking, the disease kills more than 350 people in the U.S. each day — but it doesn’t have to be this way.
If all people who should be screened for lung cancer got screened, we can save tens of thousands of lives, and tens of millions of dollars. Lung cancer is so deadly because it is most often diagnosed at an advanced stage when treatment options are limited, and outcomes are poor.
Moffitt Cancer Center and Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center have partnered with more than 50 other cancer organizations to issue a call to action urging individuals, providers and insurers to increase access to and utilization of low-dose computed tomography (CT) scans for those at high risk for lung cancer. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends annual screening for people ages 50-80 who have smoked for at least 20 years. However, only 5.7% of eligible Americans were screened for lung cancer before the COVID-19 pandemic — compared to screening rates for breast, cervical and colon cancers that hover between 60% and 80%. And we know screening rates have decreased for all cancers due to the pandemic.
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“Early detection is key to reducing lung cancer deaths. We estimate as many as 60,000 lives could be saved each year if the 14.5 million Americans who are eligible received annual lung cancer screening. This would allow us to catch the disease early when curative treatment options are available,” said Jhanelle E. Gray, M.D., statement co-author and department chair and program leader of Thoracic Oncology at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla.
The new effort also aligns with and supports the national Cancer Moonshot initiative, which aims to reduce cancer deaths by 50% over the next 25 years. Lung cancer screening is one easy way to help reach that goal. This call to action provides guidance for national support, including public funding and health policy changes needed to significantly improve lung cancer screening participation.
“We have identified the barriers to lung cancer screening. Now, we need everyone to come together to overcome them. We need a national education and awareness campaign — not just to reach individuals who are eligible for screenings, but also the providers and health educators who should be recommending them,” said Mary Reid, Ph.D., MSPH, statement co-author and chief of Cancer Screening and Survivorship at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo, NY.