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Panel recommends yearly CT scans for longtime smokers

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An influential group of physicians is in favor of annual CT scans for people at high risk for lung cancer. Some doctors are heralding early intervention, while others caution this could set up millions of people for unnecessary tests and radiation exposure.

"I am ecstatic as a lung cancer oncologist that we have a new weapon in the war against lung cancer that has been a long time coming," said Dr. Christopher Lathan of the Dana Faber Cancer Institute.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has issued a draft recommendation supporting an annual CT scan for people at high risk for lung cancer. Those between the ages of 55 and 80, who've smoked the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years.

Proponents say lung cancer screening is crucial because lung tumors are often found too late after people have symptoms.

"There's been no doubt, that if we can find the cancer earlier, that we can actually send those patients to surgery and they can be cured," Lathan said.

Nine million people would qualify under the task force's recommendation. But opponents caution more than 96 percent of the screening C.T. scans initially positive for lung cancer turn out to be false positives.

"That's an issue because most of the time, in order to determine whether something is a false positive, you need additional imaging. That means additional CT scans, additional radiation, increasing your risk of future cancers down the line," Dr. Kenneth Lin of Georgetown University school of medicine said.

Or lung biopsies that also carry risks like infection.

Other major medical groups, like the American cancer society, have expressed support for screening CT scans.

The key with today's news is that, although not yet finalized, a backing from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force would mean Medicare would likely pay for the test.

One thing experts agree on. The single most important way to protect yourself against lung cancer is to quit smoking.

From NBC News