Expert Advice: Who should undergo lung cancer screening?
Host Amber Smith: Here's some expert advice from Dr. Jason Wallen from Upstate Medical University. Who should undergo lung cancer screening?
Jason Wallen, MD: One of the important risk factors for lung cancer is how much somebody smoked. And so we have to have a way to measure that. And the way we measure that is we ask a patient how many packs of cigarettes they typically smoked a day over their lifetime.
Jason Wallen, MD: The most common number, in my experience, is one pack of cigarettes per day. So we'll use that for an example. And then we asked them for how many years did they smoked. And obviously how many years they smoked can vary. Some patients didn't smoke contiguously over their entire life. Some people, started and stopped at various points in their life, but we try to come up with a number for how many years they actually smoked. And we multiply the two. So if somebody smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years, that's a 30-pack year history of smoking. And that was the floor for lung cancer screening before. So if somebody had a 25-pack year history of smoking, they didn't qualify for lung cancer screening. That has changed. Now, it is down to 20 pack years, so if somebody smoked a pack a day for 20 years or two packs a day for 10 years, both those would get you to 20-pack years, and based on that, the patient would qualify for lung cancer screening. The other thing that has changed in the recommendations is the age range. We used to say that patients between the ages of 55 and 80 qualified for lung cancer screening. That has now come down to age 50. So, ages 50 to 80 qualify for lung cancer screening. And then the final criteria is if the patient has quit smoking how long ago did they quit? And that is not changed. Anybody who has a significant smoking history, as we just talked about, who has quit less than 15 years ago, qualifies for lung cancer screening.
Jason Wallen, MD: Patients who do get lung cancer screening on a regular basis, or who follow the guidelines, do find that we detect their lung cancers earlier, at much more treatable stages. And there are dramatic improvements in survival related to that.
Host Amber Smith: You've been listening to Dr. Jason Wallen, medical director of the thoracic oncology program at Upstate Medical University.