Syracuse (WSYR-TV) – According to government researchers, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States.
New recommendations could make it easier for long-time smokers to catch the disease earlier.
This week, the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) released the results of studies that show a significant benefit for heavy smokers who participated in yearly low-dose CT scans.
Based on the findings, the USPSTF took steps to update screening guidelines. In a draft recommendation, the panel encouraged yearly low-dose CT scans for current and former smokers, between the ages of 55 and 79, who have a least a 30 pack year history of smoking.
For example, that includes either one pack a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years.
Former smokers must have quit within the past 15 years to meet the guidelines, if they're approved.
Several years ago, Dr. Leslie Kohman oversaw a clinical trial at Upstate Medical Center, involving nearly 600 people.
She believes the results of that early research prompted the studies that ultimately convinced the USPSTF to update their recommendations.
"This actually is expected to save 20,000 lives in the United States per year,” said Dr. Kohman, who is now the Upstate Cancer Center's Medical Director.
Hilary Gearity quit her pack-and-a-half a day habit after watching her father die of lung cancer.
"Well, I smoked for many years, many years, probably full-time smoking since I was 17. I will be 70 in December. That's a lot of years,” said Gearity.
A scan this week at Upstate Cancer Center offered Hilary peace of mind, but the risk of developing lung cancer is still high for former smokers.
That's part of the reason the USPSTF gave yearly screenings for high-risk patients a B rating.
Dr. Kohman said preventive mammograms are given the same rating.
"Under the Affordable Care Act, all recommendations from the USPSTF that receive an A or a B, must be covered by all health insurers at no co-pay or cost to the patient,” Dr. Kohman said.
Currently, high-risk patients pay $235 for a cancer scan at the Upstate Cancer Center.
Officials say it could take months for the recommendations to gain final approval, following a public comment period.
Until then, Dr. Kohman says she hopes high risk smokers will get screened with or without insurance coverage.
To find out more information about Kohman’s screening program, call (315) 464-8668.