Rochester, MN (KROC AM News) - Mayo Clinic researchers are recommending an expansion of lung cancer screening to include heavy smokers who kicked the habit more than 15 years ago. They have issued a study that shows those ex-smokers still have a high risk for lung cancer and should be screened.

The author of the study, Dr. Ping Yang, says current lung cancer screening criteria recommends the low dose CT scans for adults between the ages of 55 and 80 who have smoked at least a pack a day for 30 years and are still smoking, or quit within 15 years. A previous study found that two-thirds of the patients in the United States with newly diagnosed lung cancer would not meet the current screening criteria, and the new research found the largest percentage of the lung cancer patients who did not qualify for screening were people who quit smoking between 15 and 30 years ago.

“We were surprised to find that the incidence of lung cancer was proportionally higher in this subgroup, compared to other subgroups of former cigarette smokers,” says Dr. Yang. “The common assumption is that after a person has quit for so many years, the lung cancer rate would be so low that it wouldn’t be noticeable. We found that assumption to be wrong. This suggests we need to pay attention to people who quit smoking more than 15 years ago, because they are still at high risk for developing lung cancer.”

The study also found that expanding the criteria to include the longer term former smokers would not significantly increase the number of false-positives from the scans and would save lives within acceptable level of radiation exposure and cost.

For 24/7 news and sports check KROC AM and follow KROC-AM on Facebook.