Lung cancer is by far the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women. It accounts for almost 25% of all cancer deaths. The American Cancer Society estimated that in 2021, approximately 235,760 new cases of lung cancer will be diagnosed and 131,880 people will succumb to the disease.
Lung cancer screening provides an opportunity to detect lung cancer at an early stage when surgical intervention can be curative. Screening guidelines strongly influence who gets referred for screening and what tests insurance providers will cover for whom. But the current screening guidelines may overlook vulnerable populations with disproportionate lung cancer burden and inadvertently lead to delayed diagnoses and poorer outcomes. Research shows that Black people are at a higher risk of lung cancer than the general population, even if they smoke less over time.
Few people understand how screening guidelines are developed and their impact on personal health. Health journalists can use research about lung cancer screening disparities to shed light on the process and help people advocate for the screenings they deserve.
Racial and ethnic lung screening disparities
The lung cancer screening guidelines are based on clinical trials conducted with subjects who are predominantly white Europeans. The 2011 National Lung Cancer Screening trial studied more than 53,000 current or former heavy smokers to determine the cost and effectiveness of a form of screening called low-dose computed tomography (LDCT). Fewer than 5% of participants were Black.
A European trial on the same topic, the NELSON lung cancer study, also studied LDCT screening with 7,557 participants. The researchers made no mention of people of African ancestry. Including more people of color in clinical trials could have a significant impact on screening guidelines.