A large trial in the United States found that about a quarter of the first CT scans were false positive. But, Barry said, the risk of it leading to an invasive procedure (like a needle biopsy) was “much lower.”
For 1,000 people screened in the trial, false positives led to invasive procedures in 17 cases, according to the USPSTF.
The panel also found a very low risk of radiation-induced cancer – around 0.3 to 0.8 cancer per 1,000 people screened annually for 10 years.
Of course, recommendations only matter if they are implemented. And although screening for lung cancer has been recommended for some people since 2013, “participation has been low,” said Barry.
Last year, an ALA report found that in 2018, only 4% of eligible Americans were screened for lung cancer.
He cited several potential reasons – including the novelty of using CT scans for this purpose, and a lack of awareness not only among patients, but also among doctors.
Raising awareness is essential, Barry said. The new recommendations are expected to have a particular effect on the number of women and black Americans who are newly eligible for screening. Compared to white males, they tend to smoke fewer cigarettes.
Then there is the cost. The USPSTF is a government-funded group of volunteer medical experts tasked with examining the evidence and making recommendations on preventive health care, such as cancer screening.
Medicare and most private health plans are required to cover screening recommended by the USPSTF. But Medicaid – the government insurance program for low-income Americans – doesn’t necessarily cover it. Each state has different policies, depending on the ALA.
Ultimately, Barry said, the best way to lower your risk of dying from lung cancer is to never smoke or quit. Smoking increases the risk of lung cancer by 20 times, he said.
“But another good way to reduce the risk is screening,” he added.
Barry urged current and former smokers to ask their doctors if they should be tested.
The USPSTF recommendations are in the “draft” stage and will be available for public comment until August 3 on uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org.
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