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Long-Awaited Lung Cancer Screening Guidelines Released
Medically reviewed by Gregory Jones, MD
“In many cases, the high mortality rate of lung cancer is related to a late diagnosis,” says McLeod Cardiothoracic Surgeon Dr. Gregory Jones. “Other cancers we hear about – colon, breast and prostate – have screening tests. With the new guidelines, maybe we can detect lung cancer earlier.”
“Screening” is a term that means testing BEFORE ANY SYMPTOMS appear. Caught in this early stage, lung cancer patients have a 5-year survival rate of 77% after treatment. If the cancer isn’t caught until it spreads to nearby organs, the 5-year survival rate plummets to 25%.
The new guidelines by the US Preventive Services Task Force were issued in December 2013.
You SHOULD have a yearly Low Dose CT Scan (LDCT) screening if:
- You are aged 55 to 80 AND
- You smoked for 30 “pack years”* or more OR
- Quit within the last 15 years AND
- Have no other major health issues.
(*A “pack year” is smoking one pack of cigarettes a day for one year. Smoking 2 packs a day for 15 years would also equal 30 pack years).
The panel recommended CT Scans, because a study showed that lung cancer deaths among older heavy smokers declined by 20% if screening were done by Low Dose CTs, rather than traditional X-rays.
Annual CT screening is NOT recommended for everyone, because radiation from the scans could cause cancer in otherwise healthy people.
The American Society of Clinical Oncology and the American College of Chest Physicians also adopted versions of these guidelines.
WILL MY INSURANCE PAY FOR SCREENING?
Almost as important as the medical professionals who developed or support the new guidelines is, “Will my insurance pay for it?” On that question, the answer is mixed. The good news: If you are covered under health care reform’s Affordable Care Act, your insurer WILL PAY. The not so good news: Medicare, the federal insurance program covering those over aged 65, hasn’t decided yet.
Early discussions by a Medicare panel leaned AGAINST covering the annual Low dose CT Screening under the guidelines. Unfortunately, many of the people, who fall under the guideline recommendations, are covered by Medicare. A final decision on Medicare coverage will be made in November 2014.
The most effective way you can reduce your risk of lung cancer is to STOP SMOKING. It causes 85% of all U.S. lung cancer cases.
Sources include: McLeod Health, American Lung Association, International Agency for Research on Cancer, U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, National Institutes of Health, American Society of Clinical Oncology, American Thoracic Society