Nightly News   |  December 30, 2013

Experts Recommend Heavy Smokers Get Cancer Screening

On Monday, a government panel released guidelines that could decrease the number of lung cancer deaths. NBC’s Dr. Nancy Snyderman reports.

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>>> we are back with the new guidelines from the federal government tonight on screening for the most deadly kind of cancer. the new testing recommendations for lung cancer could save tens of thousands of lives each year. we get more tonight from our chief medical editor dr. nancy snyderman .

>> reporter: leslie kingon had his first cigarette in a fox hole during world war ii .

>> it was a particularly bad day . and it was in france. and things had not been going very well for us. i think i was nervous and upset. and one of the guys said to light up, it will settle you down. so i did.

>> reporter: decades later this high school english teacher developed lung cancer picked up in 2007 on a ct scan .

>> they showed me the picture and said you better see your doctor.

>> reporter: fortunately it was caught early and doctors saved his life. he's one of the lucky ones . overall, lung cancer statistics are grim. lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the united states . killing nearly 160,000 people a year. today, a government panel released guidelines that could improve those numbers. healthy adults between the ages of 55 and 80 who are heavy smokers, meaning they have smoked the equivalent of a pack a day for 30 years, should get an annual low dose cd scan to detect early signs s of cancer. those who quit within the last 15 years should also be screened. this doctor estimates the new guidelines could save more than 30,000 lives a year.

>> we are thrilled with this result. we think this will make a big difference. many people will be able to enjoy a very productive life once they get screened and they find their lung cancer early.

>> reporter: leslie believes it saved his life.

>> without the lung detection program, the early screening program, i would not be here right now. no question about it.

>> reporter: a low dose ct scan has no more radiation than a mammogram and the cost has dropped. now to somewhere between $200 and $400. most insurance companies have been covering the procedure. as we move into 2014 increasingly, lester, we'll see screening cts for lung cancer increasingly covered by insurance