Preventive Health Panel Backs Lung Cancer Screening for High-Risk Groups, Emphasizes Need to Quit Smoking

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Jul. 30 2013

WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force today has taken an important step to help reduce deaths from lung cancer by recommending screening people who are at high risk for the disease with annual low-dose CT scans. To improve early detection of lung cancer, the Task Force recommended screening current and former smokers, age 55-80, with a history of heavy smoking (for example, one pack a day over 30 years or two packs per day over 15 years). This recommendation, which is open for public comment before being finalized, will provide much-needed guidance to physicians regarding who can benefit from lung cancer screening.

Importantly, the Task Force also emphasized the critical need to reduce the number of Americans who smoke and are exposed to secondhand smoke. Smoking is by far the biggest risk fact for lung cancer and accounts for about 85 percent of lung cancers in the United States. As Dr. Michael LeFevre, co-vice chair of the Task Force said, “It’s important to remember that helping smokers stop smoking and protecting non-smokers from exposure to tobacco smoke are the most effective ways to decrease the sickness and death associated with lung cancer. In addition, people who quit smoking will continue to see their risk go down over time. Screening for lung cancer is beneficial, but it is not an alternative to quitting smoking.”

To prevent lung cancer and other tobacco-related diseases, elected officials should support proven strategies to prevent kids from smoking, help smokers quit and reduce exposure to secondhand smoke. These include higher tobacco taxes, comprehensive smoke-free laws, well-funded tobacco prevention and cessation programs that include mass-media campaigns, health insurance coverage for therapies to help smokers quit, and effective regulation of tobacco products and marketing.

Tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable death in the United States, killing about 443,000 people and costing the nation $96 billion in health care bills each year.