Lung Cancer Screening Guidelines

Publication Date: January 1, 2013


  • Clinicians should ascertain the smoking status and smoking history of their patients aged 55 years to 74 years.
    • Clinicians with access to high‐volume, high‐quality lung cancer screening and treatment centers should initiate a discussion about lung cancer screening with patients aged 55 years to 74 years who have at least a 30–pack‐year smoking history, currently smoke, or have quit within the past 15 years, and who are in relatively good health.
  • Smoking cessation counseling constitutes a high priority for clinical attention for patients who are currently smoking. Current smokers should be informed of their continuing risk of lung cancer, and referred to smoking cessation programs. Screening should not be viewed as an alternative to smoking cessation.

  • Eligible patients should make the screening decision together with their health care provider. Helping individuals to clarify their personal values can facilitate effective decision‐making:

    • ○ Individuals who value the opportunity to reduce their risk of dying from lung cancer and who are willing to accept the risks and costs associated with having a low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) and the relatively high likelihood of the need for further tests, even tests that have the rare but real risk of complications and death, may opt to be screened with LDCT every year.

    • ○ Individuals who place greater value on avoiding testing that carries a high risk of false‐positive results and a small risk of complications, and who understand and accept that they are at a much higher risk of death from lung cancer than from screening complications, may opt not to be screened with LDCT.

  • Clinicians should not discuss lung cancer screening with LDCT with patients who do not meet the above criteria. If lung cancer screening is requested, these patients should be informed that at this time, there is too much uncertainty regarding the balance of benefits and harms for individuals at younger or older ages and/or with less lifetime exposure to tobacco smoke and/or with sufficiently severe lung damage to require oxygen (or other health‐related NLST exclusion criteria), and therefore screening is not recommended.

  • Adults who choose to be screened should follow the NLST protocol of annual LDCT screening until they reach age 74 years.

  • CXR should not be used for cancer screening.

  • Wherever possible, adults who choose to undergo lung screening preferably should enter an organized screening program at an institution with expertise in LDCT screening, with access to a multidisciplinary team skilled in the evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of abnormal lung lesions. If an organized, experienced screening program is not accessible, but the patient strongly wishes to be screened, they should be referred to a center that performs a reasonably high volume of lung CT scans, diagnostic tests, and lung cancer surgeries. If such a setting is not available and the patient is not willing or able to travel to such a setting, the risks of cancer screening may be substantially higher than the observed risks associated with screening in the NLST, and screening is not recommended. Referring physicians should help their patients identify appropriate settings with this expertise.

  • At this time, very few government or private insurance programs provide coverage for the initial LDCT preformed for the indication of lung cancer screening. Clinicians who decide to offer screening bear the responsibility of helping patients determine if they will have to pay for the initial test themselves and to help the patient know how much they will have to pay. In light of the firm evidence that screening high‐risk individuals can substantially reduce death rates from lung cancer, both private and public health care insurers should expand coverage to include the cost of annual LDCT screening for lung cancer in appropriate high‐risk individuals.


Recommendation Grading




Lung Cancer Screening Guidelines

Authoring Organization

Publication Month/Year

January 1, 2013

Supplemental Implementation Tools

Document Type


External Publication Status


Country of Publication


Document Objectives

The purpose of this guideline is to provide clinicians and the public with guidance about screening for lung cancer, and specifically to address: 1) who is and who is not a candidate for lung cancer screening; 2) what is known about the benefits, limitations, and harms associated with lung cancer screening; 3) the importance and key elements of informed and shared decision‐making prior to making a decision to undergo lung cancer screening; and (4) specific recommendations about the screening process and the importance of smoking cessation for current smokers.

Target Patient Population

Patients with high risk of lung cancer

Inclusion Criteria

Female, Male, Adult, Older adult

Health Care Settings

Ambulatory, Long term care, Outpatient

Intended Users

Nurse, nurse practitioner, physician, physician assistant


Assessment and screening, Diagnosis

Diseases/Conditions (MeSH)

D002289 - Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung, D008171 - Lung Diseases, D000076862 - Diagnostic Screening Programs, D000570 - American Cancer Society, D018827 - Carcinoma, Lewis Lung


lung cancer, screening, cancer screening

Source Citation

Supplemental Methodology Resources

Methodology Supplement


Number of Source Documents
Literature Search Start Date
January 1, 1996
Literature Search End Date
April 8, 2012