Lung cancer is by far the leading cause of cancer death, making up nearly 25 percent of all cancer deaths. More than 130,000 U.S. adults die from lung cancer each year – more than breast, colon and prostate cancer deaths combined.
“More than fifty percent as many women die from lung cancer than from breast cancer, but many don’t realize they are at much higher risk from lung cancer,” says Carey C. Thomson, M.D., MPH, chair of the Department of Medicine at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, MA. “We know if we increased lung cancer screening by 10 percent over the next decade, we could reduce overall cancer mortality dramatically.”
Thomson, who is also an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, is available for an interview to discuss:
changes to the eligibility for lung cancer screening
lifesaving potential of lung cancer screening
implementing lung and other cancer screening programs
health services research, translation of clinical practice guidelines into care and improving quality of care
In March of 2021, the United States Preventive Services Task Force recommended annual screening for lung cancer in adults aged 50 to 80 years who have a history of smoking the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes or more per day over 20 years and who currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years. These changes in screening guidelines dramatically increased the number of Americans now eligible for lung cancer screening.
“The estimate is that with the change in guidelines, eight million more people are now eligible for screening,” said Thomson. “Even if you were not eligible a year ago, you might be now. We’ve been finding a lot of people in that group.”
Dr. Thomson, Chair of the National Lung Cancer Roundtable Early Detection of Lung Cancer Implementation Task Group, states that evidence suggests women in particular benefit from lung cancer screening. Lung cancer screening has been shown to reduce mortality by up to 40-60 percent in women, making it far more effective than any other form of preventative screening. Thomson has seen it for herself. When she started Mount Auburn Hospital’s lung screening program in 2015, the 75 to 80 percent of patients the team cared for were diagnosed with stage 3 or 4 lung cancer. But within five years, as Thomson and her team continued to emphasize outreach and education about screening, the numbers flipped – with over 80percent of screened patients being diagnosed with stage 1 lung cancer.
Thomson and colleagues at partner academic research centers are running a clinical trial to determine the most effective way to increase the number of women receiving lung cancer screening – namely by educating women enrolled in the mammography screening program and, when possible, pairing lung cancer screening with the routine mammograms so many women already get. Various forms of outreach include hanging advertisements in breast centers, surveying patients in breast centers to determine eligibility for lung cancer screening, and also using database tools to flag women with known risk factors for lung cancer in their electronic health records.
“We’re essentially finding women where they are,” she says. “Women say to me, ‘No one mentioned this to me. I knew nothing about lung cancer screening.’”
Thomson is working to change all that. She reminds patients and her fellow physicians alike that there’s still stigma around smoking and lung cancer itself that can get in the way of people getting the screening services they need.
“To women I say be truthful about the things your risk factors because it could be life or death,” she says. “To providers, it’s about setting up mechanisms to make it easy to find the people in your practice who are at risk. It can be hard to identify people who you should be offering screening, especially if they feel stigmatized. Having signs in your office, being clear that you’re asking about smoking because you want to offer them life-saving screening – these will help you much more accurately get a smoking history and get your patients the preventative care they need.” (SM/Newswise)