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International Studies Show New Lung Cancer Screenings Could Reduce Mortality By 20%

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Lung cancer is by far the number one cause of cancer death in the U.S. for both men and women, claiming more than 140,000 lives last year.

That's one quarter of all cancer deaths nationwide.

Now, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is proposing new guidelines for lung cancer screenings.

CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez has more on how these guidelines could significantly reduce those grim statistics.

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The screening is a low-dose CT of the lungs that takes less than five minutes. The resulting scan can show a number of lesions or spots on the lungs, some of which may be cancer. Dr. Joshua Sabari of NYU Langone's Perlmutter Cancer Center said a number of international studies have shown that the screening reduces lung cancer mortality by as much as 20%, by finding lung cancer at an earlier, more treatable stage.

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Most studies focused on the longest duration, heaviest smokers at greatest risk for lung cancer. But, more recent data on lower risk smokers has led the Preventive Services Task Force to propose lowering the guidelines for lung cancer screening to age 50 from 55 and lowering the number of years a person smoked an average pack a day (known as pack years) from 30 pack years to 20 pack years. This could double the number of smokers eligible for the test and presumably find much more early, treatable lung cancer.

Dr. Sabari did say there's a risk of over-diagnosis with the scans, finding infections or scars in the lungs that are not cancer. But, he said most experts believe the potential benefit from early detection outweighs those risks. The scans are generally covered by insurance if a person fits the guidelines.

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