Poor Lung Cancer Screening Rates Are Costing Lives

Illustration of longs

November 1, 2022

UVA Cancer Center is joining more than 50 other top cancer care organizations in calling to increase access to, and use of, low-dose computed tomography scans for Americans at high risk for lung cancer.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States, accounting for almost 25% of all cancer deaths. Despite advances in treatment and successful efforts to reduce smoking, a primary cause of lung cancer, the disease kills more than 350 people in the U.S. each day. Lung cancer is so deadly because it is most often diagnosed at an advanced stage when treatment options are limited and outcomes are poor.

“Unfortunately, greater than 70% of lung cancers are detected too late, when the chance for a cure is much lower,” said Dr. Michael Hanley, a lung cancer screening expert at UVA Cancer Center. “The goal of screening is to detect cancers early on, when there is a high chance for a cure and a return to normal life.”

A family walking through a tunnel of lights.
A family walking through a tunnel of lights.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends annual screening for people ages 50 to 80 who have smoked at least a pack a day for 20 years (or an equivalent). However, less than 6% of eligible Americans were screened for lung cancer before the COVID-19 pandemic. By comparison, screening rates for breast, cervical and colon cancers ranged between 60% and 80%.

Screening rates for all cancers have decreased because of the pandemic.

The new effort aligns with and supports the national Cancer Moonshot initiative, which aims to reduce cancer deaths by 50% over the next 25 years. Lung cancer screening is one easy way to help reach that goal. This call to action provides guidance for national support, including public funding and health policy changes needed to significantly improve lung cancer screening. 

Anyone interested in a lung cancer screening can contact UVA Health.

Media Contact

Eric Swensen

UVA Health System