Rochester, N.Y (WROC) — The American Cancer Society updated its lung cancer screening guidelines to loosen up eligibility criteria. The new ACS guidelines essentially mean that more people who may be at risk for lung cancer qualify for screenings.
Dr. Jonathan Villena, a cardiothoracic surgeon at New York Presbyterian Hospital explains, that in the previously accepted guidelines people aged 50-80, who had a 20-pack-year smoking history, meaning they smoked a pack a day for 20 years or 2 packs a day for 10, were eligible for screenings. However with those previous guidelines, if a smoker quit and it’s been 15 years or more they became ineligible. The new guidelines remove that standard– so now even if you quit you are eligible.
“Most screening guidelines, you have to meet certain criteria to get the screening,” said Dr. Villena. “So, if you had quit for 15 years or more, the doctor would say, or sometimes insurance would say, you don’t need screening, you don’t meet the criteria. But that was missing a lot of people that are potentially high risk for lung cancer.”
Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in the United States. According to ACS, an estimated 14,500 New York residents will be diagnosed this year. Symptoms usually don’t appear until the disease is already at an advanced stage, making lung cancer screening critical to catching it early when it may be easier to treat.
However, even though these guidelines improve eligibility, there is still no traction for non-smokers. Colette Smith, a non-smoker and lung cancer survivor wasn’t screened initially because she doesn’t smoke. After advocating for herself it was determined that she was in fact fighting lung cancer.
“As it stands, there’s no screening for lung cancer unless it’s associated with a behavior, which is smoking. Smokers are the only ones who have the advantage of being screened,” said Smith.
Colette was told to have surgery because of nodules found in her lungs but she wanted definitive results before taking extreme measures. One of those results was an inconclusive pathology test which led her to surgery.
“I wanted to exhaust all other options before, and I wanted also the steps to be explained to me. I wanted to understand what everything meant.”
Colette had her upper left lung removed and is monitoring the nodules on her right. She says that some have remained stable while others have shrunk or completely disappeared. Today Colette is considered cancer-free and her doctor continues to monitor her lungs with annual screenings. She also advocates for others to get screened.
“Lung cancer is the only cancer that I know of where there are no screening guidelines to include everyone. And we all have lungs,” said Smith. “And if you have lungs, you can get lung cancer whether or not you smoke.”