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New Guidelines Double The Number Of People Who Should Get Yearly Lung Cancer Screenings

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - Claude Lape was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer at age 57.

Lots of people in his family had lung cancer.

"My father died of lung cancer, and I had two sisters with lung cancer," he says.

And over 30 years, he was a heavy smoker.

"I was probably smoking a pack and a half, easy," he says.

Now young smokers could get an earlier diagnosis.

"Seventy percent of them are detected in later stages. Those stages are just harder to cure, frankly," says Dr. Benny Weksler, a thoracic surgeon at the Allegheny Health Network. "When we detect this disease early, we can act on it."

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force now recommends people with a long history of smoking get low-dose CT scans, covered by insurance with no copay, starting at age 50.

This is five years earlier than the panel's guidelines from 2013.

"The earlier recommendation was 30 pack year, meaning somebody who smoked 30 years, one pack a day," Dr. Weksler explains. "Now the guidelines are 20 pack year, meaning somebody who's smoked for 20 years, one pack a day is eligible, because it's pretty clear that's the risk."

This will double the number of people in the U.S. who should get yearly scans.

"I don't think we, or anyone else, will be overloaded," says Dr. Weksler. "This year we're going to screen over 5,000 patients. It's going to be great if we can do more."

This would include more women and African-Americans.

"Only 50 percent of patients eligible for screening actually were screened," Dr. Weksler points out. "So that's a really worrisome figure."

"That's where we need to work with our great primary care physician groups, family medicine physicians," he adds, as primary care usually arranges for screening.

Claude would have liked a screening to pick up his cancer earlier.

"When they did find it, it was inoperable," he said.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. -- 135,000 people die of lung cancer each year.

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