A new analysis suggests that screening current and former smokers in the US for lung cancer with low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) could prevent roughly 12,000 lung cancer deaths every year.

The study authors hope this national estimate of preventable lung cancer deaths will help policy makers to better understand the benefits of LDCT lung cancer screening.

Approximately 43 million Americans are current smokers. If they keep smoking, half of them will die of smoking-related diseases including lung cancer. However, early detection of lung cancer can help prevent many of these fatalities.

The National Lung Screening Trial found that compared to chest X-rays, LDCT screening reduces lung cancer deaths by about 20 percent among current and former (who quit within 15 years) smokers aged 55-74 years who have smoked at least 30 pack-years. (This is equal one pack per day for 30 years or two packs per day for 15 years).

Based on this information combined with the US population size and other data, roughly 8.6 million Americans appear to be eligible for LDCT screening for lung cancer. When this finding is combined with information on lung cancer death rates - and if all screening-eligible Americans were to receive LDCT screening - approximately 12,000 lung cancer deaths could be delayed or even prevented each year.

In other words, national-level LDCT screening has the potential to save thousands of lives every year. Since the publication of the National Lung Screening Trial results in 2011, several health organizations including the American Lung Association have recommended LDCT screening.

However, for some health experts it is not clear whether a new national policy for lung cancer screening is warranted. The high rate of false positives (when patients appear to have lung cancer but they don’t) from LDCT screening and high costs involved are two reasons why a final decision has not been yet been taken on this matter.

These experts say they would prefer to wait for the full cost-benefit evaluations before making a final decision. In the meantime, they emphasize the need for continuing efforts to stop smoking among Americans.