Should All Women Be Routinely Screened for Lung Cancer?

Should All Women Be Routinely Screened for Lung Cancer?

Amy Reyes

March 03, 2022

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) criteria for lung cancer screening should be expanded to include more women, especially those with a history of breast cancer, according to a new study published in BJS Open.

The 2021 screening guidelines include adults aged between 50 and 80 years who have a 20–pack-year smoking history and currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years, but the guidelines do not include nonsmokers or patients with a history of previous malignancies, such as breast cancer.

Led by Daniela Molena, MD, a thoracic surgeon and director of esophageal surgery at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, researchers conducted an analysis of 2,192 women with first-time lung cancer who underwent lung resections at Memorial Sloan Kettering between January 2000 and December 2017. The study’s objective was to determine stage at diagnosis, survival, and eligibility for lung cancer screening among patients with lung cancer who had a previous breast cancer diagnosis and those who did not have a history of breast cancer.

Only 331 (15.1%) patients were previously diagnosed with breast cancer, which was not statistically significant. “Overall, there were no statistically significant differences in genomic or oncogenic pathway alterations between the two groups, which suggests that lung cancer in patients who previously had breast cancer may not be affected at the genomic level by the previous breast cancer,” the authors wrote.

However, at 58.4%, more than half of patients in the study (1,281 patients) were prior smokers and only 33.3% met the USPSTF criteria for lung cancer screening, which the authors said was concerning.

“The most important finding of the study was that a high percentage of women with lung cancer, regardless of breast cancer history, did not meet the current USPSTF criteria for lung cancer screening. This is very important given the observation that nearly half of the women included in the study did not have a history of smoking. As such, the role of imaging for other causes, such as cancer surveillance, becomes especially important for early cancer diagnosis,” Dr. Molena and colleagues wrote. “To reduce late-stage cancer diagnoses, further assessment of guidelines for lung cancer screening for all women may be needed.”

Instead, for almost half of women in the study group with a history of breast cancer, the lung cancer was detected on a routine follow-up imaging scan.