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Study shows benefit of scheduling lung screens with mammograms

Jun. 23, 2021, 9:00 AM

Kim Sandler, MD

Women who are longtime smokers could potentially save their lives by undergoing lung screens on the same day they schedule mammograms, according to a study by Vanderbilt researchers published in the Journal of Medical Screening.

The researchers reviewed data from 18,040 women who were screened for breast cancer in 2015 at two imaging facilities that also performed lung screenings. Of that number, a confirmed 251 met the guidelines for lung screens, but only 63 of them were also screened for lung cancer by June 2019. Three of the women who underwent lung screening were diagnosed with lung cancer, and none died. Of the 188 women who weren’t screened, seven were later diagnosed with lung cancer — including more advanced stages of the disease — resulting in five deaths.  There were no deaths from breast cancer in this cohort during the study period.

The researchers recommend that lung screens be concurrently available for women at risk for lung cancer when they receive their annual mammogram.

“We have done a tremendous job raising awareness for mammography, which presents an incredible opportunity to inform both patients and providers of lung cancer screening, which can save so many lives,” said the study’s lead author, Kim Sandler, MD, co-director of the Vanderbilt Lung Screening Program and assistant professor of Radiology and Radiological Sciences.

More women die from lung cancer each year than breast, cervical and ovarian cancers combined. Although lung screens can detect the cancer at an earlier stage before symptoms occur and when it can be more effectively treated, fewer than 6% of Americans who are eligible undergo the screenings, which are covered by Medicare and all Affordable Care Act compliant insurers. Without lung screening, approximately 20% of lung cancers are diagnosed at an early stage.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force this year recommended two changes that will nearly double the number of people eligible for lung cancer screening by lowering the age from 55 to 50 and reducing the number of smoking history pack years from 30 to 20.

Lung screens are a noninvasive procedure utilizing computed tomography (CT) scans. For information about lung screens or to make an appointment, call 615-936-3606 or visit

The study’s research received support from the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center Cancer Early Detection and Prevention Pilot Project and a Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center Ambassadors Discovery Award. The research initiative has received additional funding from the American Cancer Society for a multi-institutional study among a larger patient population group.

Other study authors from Vanderbilt include Diane Haddad, MD, Alexis Paulson, BSN, MSN, APRN, Travis Osterman, DO, MS, Eric Poulos, MD, and Stephen Deppen, PhD, MS, MA.

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