New guidelines published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association recommend that older current or former heavy smokers receive yearly CT scans to detect lung cancer.
The guidelines were written by an expert panel made of up members of the American College of Chest Physicians, the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, CBS News reports.
The screening is advised for current or former heavy smokers ages 55 to 74. The guidelines note that the risks of screening younger or older smokers, or nonsmokers, outweigh the benefits.
Dr. Peter Bach of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, who chaired the expert panel, said about 8 million Americans would be eligible for screening under the new guidelines. If all of them got the scans, about 4,000 lung cancer deaths could be prevented each year, he added.
The recommendations call for low-dose CT scans, a type of imaging test that can detect lung cancer early, but can also produce false-positive results. The experts did not call for widespread screening of all current and heavy smokers, since people who receive a positive result on the scan undergo invasive tests that sometimes have fatal complications.
The guidelines are based on a National Cancer Institute study of more than 53,000 people who smoked at least one cigarette pack a day for 30 years, or two packs for 15 years.
A study published earlier this year concluded that offering low-dose CT scans to longtime smokers to screen them for lung cancer would reduce the death toll of the disease by an estimated 15,000 lives a year in the United States.
Last year, a study of more than 50,000 heavy smokers with no symptoms of lung cancer, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found deaths among those screened with low-dose CT scans were 20 percent lower than those screened with chest X-rays.