Lung cancer is responsible for more deaths than any other cancer in the country. While using CT scans to screen for lung cancer has been around for about 10 years, experts say this simple test is largely underused.

“Unfortunately, many people find out they have lung cancer after it has progressed,” says Nabil Rizk, MD, chief of thoracic surgery at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. “The key to survival is catching the cancer early, before you have symptoms and one of the best ways to do that is with a CT scan.”

But according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology, only 1 in 8 people for whom a CT scan is recommended, actually get screened. “Shockingly, only 3% of New Jersey residents at high risk for lung cancer have received a low-dose CT scan lung cancer screening,” says Rizk. “This is disappointing because we know that this test can find the disease in its earliest stage when today’s latest treatment options work best.” 

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends yearly lung cancer screening for people who:

  • Have a 20 pack-year or more smoking history, and
  • Smoke now or have quit within the past 15 years, and
  • Are between 50 and 80 years old.

One study shows patients diagnosed with lung cancer at an early stage via CT screening have a 20-year survival rate of 80%. “I encourage everyone to be proactive and speak to their doctor about a CT lung cancer screening,” says Rizk, who describes the test as very easy and quick. “This screening test can and should be saving more lives.”