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Annual cancer scans recommended for smokers

The Associated Press

CHICAGO -- New lung cancer screening guidelines from three medical groups recommend annual scans, but only for current or former heavy smokers ages 55 to 74.

The risks of screening younger or older smokers or nonsmokers outweigh any benefits, according to the guidelines published online Sunday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

About 8 million Americans would be eligible for screening under the new criteria, and if all of them got the scans, about 4,000 lung cancer deaths a year could be prevented, said Dr. Peter Bach of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan. Bach chaired the expert panel that wrote the new guidelines for the American College of Chest Physicians, the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.

The recommended screening involves low-dose CT scans, which are a special kind of X-ray that can detect lung cancer early, but also can have false-positive results.

An estimated 226,000 Americans will be diagnosed this year with lung cancer, and an estimated 160,000 deaths are forecast. Though lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer deaths, the toll has declined in recent years, partly because of better detection and fewer people smoking.

Widespread screening is likely to lead to some deaths, because abnormal results typically lead to biopsies and other invasive tests that can have deadly complications. Still, the three groups say those deaths would be far outnumbered by people saved from lung cancer deaths by screening.

The guidance is based on a review of evidence including a National Cancer Institute study of more than 53,000 people who smoked at least one cigarette pack daily for 30 years or two packs for 15 years. The guidelines recommend screening only for people who have smoked that much.The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a government-appointed panel that issues public health guidance, is evaluating that study as it prepares to update its 2004 stance finding insufficient evidence to support such lung cancer screening.

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