Challenges to Educating Smokers About Lung Cancer Screening: a Qualitative Study of Decision Making Experiences in Primary Care.

Document Type


Publication Date



Cancer screening; Decision making; Psychology; Qualitative research; Smoking cessation


We sought to qualitatively explore how those at highest risk for lung cancer, current smokers, experienced, understood, and made decisions about participation in lung cancer screening (LCS) after being offered in the target setting for implementation, routine primary care visits. Thirty-seven current smokers were identified within 4 weeks of being offered LCS at seven sites participating in the Veterans Health Administration Clinical Demonstration Project and interviewed via telephone using semi-structured qualitative interviews. Transcripts were coded by two raters and analyzed thematically using iterative inductive content analysis. Five challenges to smokers' decision-making lead to overestimated benefits and minimized risks of LCS: fear of lung cancer fixated focus on inflated screening benefits; shame, regret, and low self-esteem stemming from continued smoking situated screening as less averse and more beneficial; screening was mistakenly believed to provide general evaluation of lungs and reassurance was sought about potential damage caused by smoking; decision-making was deferred to providers; and indifference about numerical educational information that was poorly understood. Biased understanding of risks and benefits was complicated by emotion-driven, uninformed decision-making. Emotional and cognitive biases may interfere with educating and supporting smokers' decision-making and may require interventions tailored for their unique needs.

Clinical Institute



Primary Care




Population Health