Few smokers seek lung cancer screenings

February 15, 2017 GMT

Lung cancer screening rates have barely budged in recent years, according to a new study, even though under the health law many people don’t have to pay anything out-of-pocket for them because the test is recommended by a panel of prevention experts.

In 2010, just 3.3 percent of eligible smokers surveyed said they had received a low-dose computed tomography scan in the previous year to check for lung cancer. In 2015, the percentage had inched up to 3.9 percent, or 262,700 people out of 6.8 million who were eligible.

The analysis of data from the National Health Interview Survey, a large, ongoing in-person federal survey conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics, was performed by researchers at the American Cancer Society and published online in JAMA Oncology last week.

Despite steady declines in smoking, lung cancer is the No. 1 killer among cancers, accounting for more than 150,000 deaths annually. Smoking is linked to up to 90 percent of lung cancers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2013, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent panel of medical experts, recommended annual low-dose CT scans for current or former smokers between the ages of 55 and 80 who smoked for “30 pack years” — the equivalent of a pack a day for 30 years — and currently smoke or quit within the past 15 years. Under the health law, health plans have to cover preventive services that are recommended by the task force without charging consumers for them.