"It Can't Hurt!": Why Many Patients With Limited Life Expectancy Decide to Accept Lung Cancer Screening

Author Department

Healthcare Quality

Document Type

Article, Peer-reviewed

Publication Date



Purpose: Lung cancer screening (LCS) has less benefit and greater potential for iatrogenic harm among people with multiple comorbidities and limited life expectancy. Yet, such individuals are more likely to undergo screening than healthier LCS-eligible people. We sought to understand how patients with marginal LCS benefit conceptualize their health and make decisions regarding LCS.

Methods: We interviewed 40 people with multimorbidity and limited life expectancy, as determined by high Care Assessment Need scores, which predict 1-year risk of hospitalization or death. Patients were recruited from 6 Veterans Health Administration facilities after discussing LCS with their clinician. We conducted a thematic analysis using constant comparison to explore factors that influence LCS decision making.

Results: Patients commonly held positive beliefs about screening and perceived LCS to be noninvasive. When posed with hypothetical scenarios of limited benefit, patients emphasized the nonlongevity benefits of LCS (eg, peace of mind, planning for the future) and generally did not consider their health status or life expectancy when making decisions regarding LCS. Most patients were unaware of possible additional evaluations or treatment of screen-detected findings, but when probed further, many expressed concerns about the potential need for multiple evaluations, referrals, or invasive procedures.

Conclusions: Patients in this study with multimorbidity and limited life expectancy were unaware of their greater risk of potential harm when accepting LCS. Given patient trust in clinician recommendations, it is important that clinicians engage patients with marginal LCS benefit in shared decision making, ensuring that their values of desiring more information about their health are weighed against potential harms from further evaluations.

Keywords: cancer: screening; chronic care: comorbidity/multimorbidity; lung cancer; lung cancer screening; primary care issues: patient-centered care; qualitative methods: key informant/depth interviewing.