top of page

Most People at Risk for Lung Cancer Never Get Screened: Here’s How to Fix That

Scientific American

September 6, 2022

Simar Bajaj

Most People at Risk for Lung Cancer Never Get Screened: Here’s How to Fix That

In late 2014 then 40-year-old Katherine Benson was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer and told she had less than a year to live. “She was stunned,” says her father Rick Nolan, a former congressional representative of Minnesota. Benson had never smoked and was a young, healthy mother of four. “She’s the last person you would expect to get something like this,” Nolan says.

Lung cancer kills about 130,000 people in the U.S. every year—more than breast and colorectal cancer combined. But early detection makes a dramatic difference: if diagnosed in its localized stages, lung cancer has an almost 60 percent five-year survival rate. That number drops to 7 percent with late detection.

“Every day in the U.S., there’s a jumbo jet full of people who are dying of lung cancer that could have had early detection,” says Claudia Henschke, a professor of radiology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. Indeed, most people at risk of developing lung cancer never get screened for it. Increasing outreach to at-risk groups and expanding eligibility could change that—and save lives.

Restrictive Guidelines and a Low Screening Rate

The most recent guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), an independent advisory panel, recommend annual lung cancer screening with a low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) scan. In two large randomized controlled trials, such screening reduced lung cancer mortality by 20 to