Lung cancer presents unique challenges in terms of treatment and control, as the spread of the disease significantly impacts patient outcomes. According to a session featured at the American Thoracic Society (ATS) 2023 International Conference in Washington, DC, the approach to screening for lung cancer has evolved.
Panagis Galiatsatos, MD, MSH, an associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University, led the discussion, highlighting why lung cancer screening criteria differ from other organ screenings due to the inclusion of risk factors.
“The challenge with cancer has to do with if it’s spread so much resulting in significant pathology to the patient, that’s the hardest part to treat,” Galiatsatos said in an interview.
Currently, individuals aged 50 and above with a history of 20 pack-years of tobacco use are flagged for screening. If they have quit smoking, a 15-year interval is considered, and those above 80 may not receive as much benefit from screening. However, disparities have been observed over the years with the screening protocol, and he explained it’s especially evident across racial populations, which prompted a new approach to lung cancer screening.
Lung cancer screening is distinct from the screening of other organs because risk factors are taken into account. With other cancers such as breast, prostate, and colorectal, only the patient’s age and organ criteria are assessed for eligibility.
“We know when the cancer spreads, it’s much harder to control, it’s much harder to treat, especially lung cancer,” Galiatsatos said. “If we find lung cancer at its earliest stage, we can sit back and tell the patient, ‘you’re likely going to be cured by these interventions, there’s no guarantee, but the odds become in their favor.’”