Why lung cancer is going undiagnosed

While smoking rates are declining in the U.S., many cases of lung cancer are going undiagnosed because patients no longer meet the screening requirements for low-dose CT scans, according to a study by Mayo Clinic researchers.

Asymptomatic adults ages 55 to 80 who have smoked one pack a day for 30 years and still smoke or have stopped within the last 15 years are recommended for low-dose CT scans by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, according to a statement.

Despite that more people have quit smoking, they are still getting lung cancer: The percentage of lung cancer patients who have been smoke-free for at least 15 years is growing, while the percentage of cancer patients who have smoked one pack a day for 30 years is declining, researchers found after analyzing the population of Olmsted County, Minn., from 1948 to 2011.

Their study also found the percentage of lung cancer patients eligible for low-dose CT scans fell approximately 13.5 percent from 1984 to 2011. Men eligible for screening fell 10.3 percent and women fell 15.7 percent, according to the report.

"As smokers quit earlier and stay off cigarettes longer, fewer are eligible for CT screening, which has been proven effective in saving lives," author Ping Yang, MD, PhD, epidemiologist at Mayo Clinic Cancer Center, said in a statement. "Patients who do eventually develop lung cancer are diagnosed at a later stage when treatment can no longer result in a cure."


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