Lung Cancer Screening Now Covered Under Medicare

Smokers and former smokers are understandably concerned about their risk of developing lung cancer. The leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women, lung cancer is responsible for more deaths than colon cancer, breast cancer, and prostate cancer combined. One of the main reasons lung cancer is so deadly is that it is often not discovered until it has spread to other parts of the body.

Low-dose computed tomography (CT) is a medical imaging technique that can identify lung cancer in its early stages, when the chances for a cure are greatest. Low-dose CT screening is quick, easy, and requires only a minimal amount of radiation exposure to the patient. Furthermore, some insurers are now covering this type of screening. But it is not appropriate for everyone, so it’s important for both patients and doctors to be educated on who can benefit most from low-dose CT screening.

Lung Cancer Risks and Screening Appropriateness

Approximately 9 million Americans meet criteria for lung cancer screening like that carried out by the National Lung Screening Trial (NLST). Appropriateness is determined by a person’s age, how long he or she smoked, and how many packs per day were smoked on average.
While it may seem like a good idea to screen all smokers or former smokers, the benefits of doing so in terms of diagnosing cancer early do not outweigh the risks and costs of such widespread screening. That’s why any smoker or former smoker interested in lung cancer screening should speak with a practitioner who understands the risk-benefit profile of low-dose CT screening based on the patient’s particular history.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recently approved CT lung cancer screening as a preventative service benefit under Medicare. This is good news, since earlier studies indicated that low-dose CT screening was beneficial not only for those under age 65, but for those in the 65- to 74-year age range as well.

Why Low Dose CT Screening Outperforms Traditional Radiography

The NLST compared the risks and benefits of low-dose CT screening and traditional chest radiography screening. Radiologists participating in the NLST trial at Broward Health included Richard Spira, MD, David Ring, MD, Shawn Fibkins, MD, Charles Cole, MD, Brian Auster, MD, Eric Alboucrek, DO, and Michael Arch, MD.

The NLST found that a lower percentage of the participants diagnosed with lung cancer after low-dose CT screening died from lung cancer than those who were diagnosed with lung cancer after traditional chest radiography.

Low-dose CT screening costs more than chest radiography. However, patients diagnosed after low-dose CT screening had lower costs for chemotherapy and radiation therapy than those diagnosed after chest radiography. Low-dose CT screening is able to detect cancers earlier, so that the chances for successful treatment are greater, and treatment costs are lower.

The Importance of Communication and Patient Education

People who undergo screening should be educated about their risks based on their histories, and what the results of the screening mean. For example, a false-positive screen can be difficult psychologically for patients if they do not understand why their doctor orders more testing. When patients understand from the outset what a positive screen means and what happens from there, the process is far less stressful, whether or not it turns out to be a false-positive.

Practitioner Skill Is Another Critical Factor in Lung Cancer CT Screening

The skill and experience of the radiologist interpreting the images collected during low-dose CT screening (or chest radiography) also affects the effectiveness of the screening and outcome. Skilled radiology specialists can also more accurately determine which patients are the best candidates for low-dose CT lung cancer screening and prevent unnecessary screening and the stress that can go along with it.

Conclusion

Smokers who are concerned about lung cancer risk can use simple online risk analysis tools to help them determine if they should contact an imaging center offering low-dose CT screening. The Board-certified physicians at North Broward Radiologists have the certifications and experience necessary to know when screening is appropriate, and to apply their specialized skills to interpretation of screenings so that it is most effective. Furthermore, they are able to inform and educate patients about risk and help them make smart decisions about their health and lung cancer screening. If you would like to know more, contact NBR online or call 954-358-5250.