DENVER (KDVR) — The American Cancer Society is expanding the list of people who they recommend should get annual lung cancer screenings with a low-dose CT scan.

In Colorado, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in both men and women.

The ACS previously recommended yearly screening for people aged 55-74 who smoked the equivalent of a pack a day for 30 years. The new recommendation is for people aged 50 to 80 who smoke the equivalent of a pack a day for 20 years.

“What this really allows us to do is to catch younger patients, and even patients who haven’t smoked as much, and we can potentially catch more lung cancers earlier,” said Dr. Andy Labelle, a pulmonary critical care physician. 

Labelle said many people with lung cancer don’t have symptoms until the cancer has progressed to a late stage, so screening is important.

“If we can catch their cancer at a stage one, it is very a curable situation where we have over 90% cure rate for these cancers,” he said.

Only 6% get lung cancer screenings in the US

One of the other significant changes to the guidelines is that patients who quit smoking more than 15 years ago are still eligible.

The American Cancer Society hopes that Medicare and the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force will align with their recommendations so that insurance coverage can be expanded.

Labelle hopes that patients will take advantage of the screening.

“There are options to save lives and cure lung cancer early, and it can make a huge difference, and I would definitely recommend it,” he said.

One challenge is awareness. Even under the previous guidelines, only 6% of Americans who qualify actually get the screening.