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What you need to know about lung cancer screening

Monday, November 1, 2021

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month—Yale Cancer Center and Smilow Cancer Hospital experts explain why screening can save lives

New Haven, CT — According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women in the United States. This year, there will be more than 235,000 new cases of lung cancer diagnosed in the U.S., with nearly 132,000 deaths. These grim statistics make it even more important to detect lung cancer at an early stage when it’s more likely to be cured. 

“By the time lung cancer signs and symptoms develop, the cancer is usually too advanced for curative treatment,” said Justin Blasberg, MD, MPH, FACS, Associate Professor of Surgery (Thoracic) at Yale Cancer Center and Smilow Cancer Hospital. “Screening is an opportunity for select patients who meet criteria to look for lung abnormalities including lung cancer.”

Although non-smokers can be diagnosed with lung cancer, screening is extremely important in high-risk patients with a smoking history. The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) updated their screening guidelines in 2021 to broaden the guidelines. The USPSTF now recommends an annual low-dose computed tomography (CT) scan for the early detection of lung cancer for adults aged 50-80 who meet the following criteria:

  • who have a 20 pack-year smoking history (number of packs of cigarettes smoked per day multiplied by the number of years smoked) 
  • and currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years

Low-dose CT uses a small amount of radiation to capture images of the lung. It is painless and requires no special preparation. Insurance will cover the screening cost in most patients who meet the screening criteria, Medicare coverage is up to 77 years old.  Smilow Cancer Hospital schedules each patient for a decision support visit to discuss the screening process in advance of a patient’s first screening.

Blasberg adds the biggest obstacle to people getting screened is they still aren't aware of the screening recommendations. Also, for smokers and former smokers, there is a stigma associated with the disease and getting help.

“Lung cancer screening rates are still way too low. Only a small percentage of men and women who qualify for screening ever undergo it,” said Blasberg. “We could save so many more lives if more people were screened. With many more advances made in the field and new therapeutics now available to treat lung cancer, this disease is no longer a death sentence. There is a possibility of a cure.”

For more information on the Smilow Lung Cancer Screening Program.


Yale New Haven Health (YNHHS), the largest and most comprehensive healthcare system in Connecticut, is recognized for advanced clinical care, quality, service, cost effectiveness and commitment to improving the health status of the communities it serves. YNHHS includes five hospitals – Bridgeport, Greenwich, Lawrence + Memorial, Westerly and Yale New Haven hospitals, several specialty networks and Northeast Medical Group, a non-profit medical foundation with several hundred community-based and hospital-employed physicians. YNHHS is affiliated with Yale University and Yale Medicine, the clinical practice of the Yale School of Medicine and the largest academic multi-specialty practice in New England. Yale New Haven Hospital is the primary teaching hospital of Yale School of Medicine.