Lung cancer screening

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1] Associate Editor(s)-in-Chief:


Lung cancer screening is a strategy used to identify early lung cancer in people, before they develop symptoms. Screening refers to the use of medical tests to detect disease in asymptomatic people. Screening studies for lung cancer have only been done in high risk populations, such as smokers and workers with occupational exposure to certain substances. This is because radiation exposure from screening could actually induce carcinogenesis in a small percentage of screened subjects, so this risk should be mitigated by a (relatively) high prevalence of lung cancer in the population being screened. A pulmonary nodule larger than 5 - 6 mm is considered a positive result for screening with x-ray or computed tomography.

About 50% of smokers meet the criteria of 20 pack years[1].

Uptake of lung cancer screening is low[2].

As of 2021, screening for lung cancer is not an implemented quality measure nor reportable[3].


Practice Guidelines

Current Guidelines

In 2021, a clinical practice guideline by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommended screening for lung cancer among smokers and former smokers who are between 50 to 80 years old and who have smoked 20 pack years or more and either continue to smoke or have quit smoking within the past 15 years (grade B recommendation).[4]

MEDICARE requires that screening include counseling for the benefits of screening and smoking cessation[5].

Previous Guidelines

Interpreting results

Lung-RADS version 1.1 by the American College of Radiology guides interpretation of scans.

The Swenson prediction rule can aid prediction[17].

Studies of Efficacy

  • The International Early Lung Cancer Action Project is a cohort study of 31,000 high-risk patients that found benefit from screening.[20]
    • In this study 85% of the 484 detected lung cancers were stage I and thus highly treatable. Mathematically, these stage I patients would have an expected 10-year survival of 88%. However, there was no randomization of patients (all received CT scans and there was no comparison group receiving only x-rays) and the patients were not actually followed up to 10 years post detection (the median follow up was 40 months).
  • A cohort of 3,200 current or former smokers found no benefit. These patients were screened for 4 years and offered 3 or 4 CT scans. Lung cancer diagnoses were 3 times as high, and surgeries were 10 times as high, as predicted by a model, but there were no significant differences between observed and expected numbers of advanced cancers or deaths.[21]
  • The National Lung Screening Trial (NLST) reported reduction in the diagnosis of advanced-stage cancers.[22]
  • The DANTE trial has been inconclusive.[23]

Screening for Lung Cancer U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Recommendation Statement 2013 (DO NOT EDIT)[6]

"1. The USPSTF recommends annual screening for lung cancer with low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) in adults aged 55 to 80 years who have a 30 pack-year smoking history and currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years. Screening should be discontinued once a person has not smoked for 15 years or develops a health problem that substantially limits life expectancy or the ability or willingness to have curative lung surgery. (Grade B)"


The cost per year of life save from smoking cessation[24][25] is less than the costs per year of life saved from screening for lung cancer with low-dose computed tomography[26][8].


  1. "Error in Results". JAMA Oncol. 5 (9): 1372. 2019. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2019.3296. PMC 6681549 Check |pmc= value (help). PMID 31369038.
  2. Liu Y, Pan IE, Tak HJ, Vlahos I, Volk R, Shih YT (2022). "Assessment of Uptake Appropriateness of Computed Tomography for Lung Cancer Screening According to Patients Meeting Eligibility Criteria of the US Preventive Services Task Force". JAMA Netw Open. 5 (11): e2243163. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.43163. PMC 9679877 Check |pmc= value (help). PMID 36409492 Check |pmid= value (help).
  3. Kane GC, Barta JA, Shusted CS, Evans NR (2022). "Now Is the Time to Make Screening for Lung Cancer Reportable". Ann Intern Med. 175 (6): 888–889. doi:10.7326/M22-0142. PMID 35404673 Check |pmid= value (help).
  4. "Lung Cancer: Screening". MRCH 9, 2021. Retrieved Sept 15,2022. Check date values in: |accessdate=, |date= (help)
  5. Screening for Lung Cancer with Low Dose Computed Tomography (LDCT).
  6. 6.0 6.1 "". Retrieved 31 December 2013. External link in |title= (help)
  7. de Koning HJ, Meza R, Plevritis SK, ten Haaf K, Munshi VN, Jeon J; et al. (2014). "Benefits and harms of computed tomography lung cancer screening strategies: a comparative modeling study for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force". Ann Intern Med. 160 (5): 311–20. doi:10.7326/M13-2316. PMC 4116741. PMID 24379002.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Black WC, Gareen IF, Soneji SS, Sicks JD, Keeler EB, Aberle DR; et al. (2014). "Cost-effectiveness of CT screening in the National Lung Screening Trial". N Engl J Med. 371 (19): 1793–802. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa1312547. PMC 4335305. PMID 25372087. Review in: Evid Based Med. 2015 Apr;20(2):78
  9. Oken MM, Hocking WG, Kvale PA, Andriole GL, Buys SS, Church TR; et al. (2011). "Screening by chest radiograph and lung cancer mortality: the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian (PLCO) randomized trial". JAMA. 306 (17): 1865–73. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.1591. PMID 22031728. Review in: Evid Based Med. 2012 Oct;17(5):149-50 Review in: Ann Intern Med. 2012 Mar 20;156(6):JC3-8
  10. Pastorino U, Rossi M, Rosato V, Marchianò A, Sverzellati N, Morosi C; et al. (2012). "Annual or biennial CT screening versus observation in heavy smokers: 5-year results of the MILD trial". Eur J Cancer Prev. 21 (3): 308–15. doi:10.1097/CEJ.0b013e328351e1b6. PMID 22465911.
  11. Detterbeck FC, Mazzone PJ, Naidich DP, Bach PB (2013). "Screening for Lung Cancer: Diagnosis and Management of Lung Cancer, 3rd ed: American College of Chest Physicians Evidence-Based Clinical Practice Guidelines". Chest. 143 (5 Suppl): e78S–92S. doi:10.1378/chest.12-2350. PMID 23649455. Summary in JournalWatch
  12. Midthun, David E. (2016). "Early detection of lung cancer". F1000Research. 5: 739. doi:10.12688/f1000research.7313.1. ISSN 2046-1402.
  13. Midthun, David E. (2011). "Screening for Lung Cancer". Clinics in Chest Medicine. 32 (4): 659–668. doi:10.1016/j.ccm.2011.08.014. ISSN 0272-5231.
  14. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (2004). "Lung cancer screening: recommendation statement". Ann. Intern. Med. 140 (9): 738–9. PMID 15126258.
  15. Humphrey LL, Teutsch S, Johnson M (2004). "Lung cancer screening with sputum cytologic examination, chest radiography, and computed tomography: an update for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force". Ann. Intern. Med. 140 (9): 740–53. PMID 15126259.
  16. Alberts WM (2007). "Diagnosis and Management of Lung Cancer Executive Summary: ACCP Evidence-Based Clinical Practice Guidelines (2nd Edition)". 132 (3_suppl): 1S–19S. doi:10.1378/chest.07-1860. PMID 17873156.
  17. Pulmonary nodule - probability of malignancy using Mayo Clinic model. Avalable at
  18. Manser RL, Irving LB, Stone C, Byrnes G, Abramson M, Campbell D (2004). "Screening for lung cancer". Cochrane database of systematic reviews (Online) (1): CD001991. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD001991.pub2. PMID 14973979.
  19. Henschke CI, Yip R, Yankelevitz DF, Smith JP, International Early Lung Cancer Action Program Investigators* (2013). "Definition of a positive test result in computed tomography screening for lung cancer: a cohort study". Ann Intern Med. 158 (4): 246–52. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-158-4-201302190-00004. PMID 23420233.
  20. Henschke CI, Yankelevitz DF, Libby DM, Pasmantier MW, Smith JP, Miettinen OS (2006). "Survival of patients with stage I lung cancer detected on CT screening". N. Engl. J. Med. 355 (17): 1763–71. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa060476. PMID 17065637.
  21. Bach PB, Jett JR, Pastorino U, Tockman MS, Swensen SJ, Begg CB (2007). "Computed tomography screening and lung cancer outcomes". JAMA. 297 (9): 953–61. doi:10.1001/jama.297.9.953. PMID 17341709.
  22. Aberle DR, DeMello S, Berg CD, Black WC, Brewer B, Church TR; et al. (2013). "Results of the two incidence screenings in the National Lung Screening Trial". N Engl J Med. 369 (10): 920–31. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa1208962. PMC 4307922. PMID 24004119.
  23. Infante M, Cavuto S, Lutman FR, Passera E, Chiarenza M, Chiesa G; et al. (2015). "Long-Term Follow-up Results of the DANTE Trial, a Randomized Study of Lung Cancer Screening with Spiral Computed Tomography". Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 191 (10): 1166–75. doi:10.1164/rccm.201408-1475OC. PMID 25760561.
  24. Cromwell J, Bartosch WJ, Fiore MC, Hasselblad V, Baker T (1997). "Cost-effectiveness of the clinical practice recommendations in the AHCPR guideline for smoking cessation. Agency for Health Care Policy and Research". JAMA. 278 (21): 1759–66. PMID 9388153.
  25. Kaper J, Wagena EJ, van Schayck CP, Severens JL (2006). "Encouraging smokers to quit: the cost effectiveness of reimbursing the costs of smoking cessation treatment". Pharmacoeconomics. 24 (5): 453–64. doi:10.2165/00019053-200624050-00004. PMID 16706571.
  26. Criss SD, Cao P, Bastani M, Ten Haaf K, Chen Y, Sheehan DF; et al. (2019). "Cost-Effectiveness Analysis of Lung Cancer Screening in the United States: A Comparative Modeling Study". Ann Intern Med. doi:10.7326/M19-0322. PMID 31683314.

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