The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, the same advisory group who said men don't need to get regular PSA screenings and women should start mammograms later in life, is recommending annual lung scans for certain smokers. Experts say this could prevent as many as 20,000 deaths a year.
West Covina resident Mary Wright has smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for 40 years.
"People don't want cancer but they love smoking," said Wright. "I love to smoke, but I don't want cancer neither."
So Wright just enrolled in City of Hope's smoking cessation program, which also includes yearly lung screening.
"I'm going to have a CT scan to check me out, make sure I'm OK," said Wright.
Now the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is now recommending yearly CT scans for 55-to-80-year-old smokers with a 30-year pack-a-day history.
"If somebody smokes one pack per day for 30 years, they're considered to have a 30-pack-year history of smoking. Or if somebody smokes two packs per day times 15 years, they would also be considered to have a 30-pack-year history of smoking," said Dr. Jossie Sandoval, City of Hope Medical Center.
Screening is also recommended for those who quit in the last 15 years.
Dr. Sandoval heads the lung cancer screening program. She says the benefits of catching lung cancer early outweigh the risks low-dose radiation exposures. Studies show it will save lives.
"I really think thousands, tens of thousands of lives probably," said Sandoval.
Lung cancer is the third most common cancer in the U.S. And people with this disease tend to have a poor prognosis: 90 percent of people with lung cancer die from the disease.
"Most lung cancer is caught very late because there's not a lot of symptoms. We don't have any blood screening that we can do for lung cancer right now," said Sandoval.
Mary Wright knows the best way to prevent lung cancer is not to have ever smoked. It's the new year's wish she has for her children and grandchildren.
"It's harmful to you and it's harmful for the people that surround you," said Wright. "I tell everybody, the young ones: Don't smoke or you're going to hear from me."
The new recommendations clear the way for insurers to begin paying for the scans.
Under the new health care law, cancer screenings backed by the task force are supposed to be covered, although plans have a year to adopt new recommendations.