The U.S. Medicare program is proposing to add lung cancer screening tests for beneficiaries with a history of heavy smoking, the federal government announced on Monday.

Screening for lung cancer with CT scans is not currently covered under the Medicare health insurance program for the elderly and disabled.

Current and former smokers age 55 to 74 who show no signs of lung disease but meet criteria for tobacco smoking history would be eligible for an annual low-dose computed tomography scan as a preventive service benefit, said the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency that oversees Medicare.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in men and women in the United States.

An annual low-dose screening test for individuals at high risk has the potential to dramatically improve lung cancer survival rates by finding the disease at an earlier, more treatable stage, the American Lung Association said in a statement.

A study of Medicare beneficiaries with a history of heavy smoking released in May found that new lung cancer screening guidelines could double the proportion of lung cancers found at an early stage.