Tobacco Control and Lung Cancer Prevention

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Tobacco use is the number one risk factor for lung cancer. In the United States, tobacco use is linked to about 90 percent of lung cancer deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Link Between Tobacco Use and Cancer

  • Cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States.
  • Smoking causes about 90 percent (or 9 out of 10) of all lung cancer deaths in men and women.
  • Smoking harms nearly every organ of the body and affects a person's overall health.

About Lung Cancer

Lung cancer — which includes small cell and non-small cell lung cancer — is the leading cause of cancer-related death, and the second most common type of cancer among men and women in the United States. More than half of patients with lung cancer are diagnosed at an advanced stage, when the disease has spread outside of the lungs and is difficult to treat.

Lung Cancer Screening Saves Lives

Lung cancer treatment is most promising when tumors are found early, before any symptoms develop. Low-dose computed tomography (also called a low-dose CT scan, or LDCT) is the only recommended screening test for lung cancer. It has been shown to detect lung cancer at its earliest, most treatable stage, and is the only test that has been proven to reduce the risk of dying from lung cancer among those at high risk for the disease.

Who Should Be Screened?

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends yearly lung cancer screening with LDCT for individuals at high risk of developing lung cancer. You may qualify for LDCT screening if you meet all the following criteria:

  • You are between 50 and 80 years of age.
  • You have a 20 or more "pack-year" history of smoking (see graphic below).
  • You are a current smoker, or have quit within the last 15 years.

How to Calculate "Pack-Years"

To calculate your "pack-years," multiply the number of cigarette packs you have smoked per day by the number of years you have smoked (for example: 2 packs a day smoked over a 30-year period = 2 x 30 = 60 pack-years).

Calculating pack-years*

(20 cigarettes = 1 pack)

Number of years smoked
Average number of packs smoked per day
= Pack-years

*Your health care professional can help you determine the number of pack-years you have smoked.

Find an online pack-years calculator tool at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Insurance Coverage for Lung Cancer Screenings

Annual low-dose CT screenings are covered by all insurance plans, including Medicare, for patients at high risk. Talk with your provider to determine whether you are eligible for screening.

Steps You Can Take

  • For help quitting smoking, you can call the national Smokers' Helpline (1-800-QUIT-NOW) for programs in your state, or talk with your primary care doctor to learn more. The number for the Massachusetts' Smokers' Helpline is 1-800-TRY-TO-STOP (1-800-879-8678). See Quitting Smoking for additional resources.
  • Talk with your health care provider to determine whether lung cancer screening is right for you. If you qualify, you will need a referral from your provider to be screened.

Additional Resources