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Early lung cancer usually has no symptoms, so it’s hard to detect early when there is the best chance for a cure. More than 60 percent of lung cancers are diagnosed after the cancer has spread, leading to worse outcomes for patients.

In 2011, the National Lung Screening Trial (NLST) found that low-dose CT scans in high-risk individuals can significantly reduce lung cancer mortality. Compared to X-rays, CT scans can find cancer sooner and increase the chance of being cured. This study is widely considered one of the best examples of a clinical trial.

Now, a second clinical trial presented this year at the World Conference of Lung Cancer confirms that lung cancer screening is the right choice for those at risk. The European study, called the NELSON trial, showed CT scanning decreased mortality by 26 percent in high-risk men and up to 61 percent in high-risk women over a 10-year period.

“It’s a very large study that supports the American version of the study,” said Moffitt pulmonologist Dr. Viswam Nair. “This has never been done before in any other screening modality, like mammography, cervical or colon screening. It suggests that if you’re older and if you smoke heavily, you should be screened.”

In the United States you are eligible to be screened if you:

  • Are between the ages of 55-80
  • Are a current or former smoker with a 30-pack per year history such as:
    • One pack a day for 30 years
    • Two packs a day for 15 years
    • Three packs a day for 10 years
  • Have quit smoking in the past 15 years with a 30 pack per year smoking history

Unfortunately, Nair says a large number of at-risk individuals are not being screened. “There are up to eight million patients in the country—in the U.S. alone—who may be eligible for screening and only about five percent are being screened according to estimates.”

Lung cancer is the deadliest cancer worldwide and is expected to kill more than 154,000 people in the U.S. in 2018. For more on Moffitt’s Lung Cancer Screening Program, click here.