U.S. Panel: Lung Cancer Screening For Heavy Smokers

By  //  January 7, 2014

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20,OOO LUNG CANCER DEATHS COULD BE PREVENTED

ABOVE VIDEO: Therese Bevers, M.D., medical director of MD Anderson’s Cancer Prevention Center, says lung cancer screening is important because it can detect lung cancer early when it’s most treatable. 

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The finalization of the long-anticipated guidelines for lung cancer screening established by the influential U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) marks a major milestone for disease detection and treatment.

According to the recently issued final guidelines, current and former heavy smokers, who are at especially high risk for lung cancer, should receive annual lung cancer screening tests to cut their risk of death from the nation’s top cancer killer.

37 PERCENT OF AMERICANS ARE CURRENT OR FORMER SMOKERS

Nearly 160,000 Americans die from lung cancer annually and smoking is the biggest risk contributor to the disease. The more and longer people smoke, the higher their lung cancer risk.

Lungs with a cigarette

37 percent of U.S. adults are current or former smokers and nearly 160,000 Americans die from lung cancer annually, most related to smoking.

The USPSTF is an independent panel of non-Federal experts in prevention and evidence-based medicine, which conducts scientific evidence reviews of a broad range of clinical preventive health care services and develops recommendations for primary care clinicians and health systems that are published in the form of “Recommendation Statements.”

The guidelines, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, recommend that people ages 55 to 80 who are current heavy smokers (defined as a pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years or an equivalent amount, such as two packs a day for 15 years) and previous heavy smokers that quit within the past 15 years undergo screening chest CT scans.

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CT scan revealing an early lung cancer.

USPSTF estimated that 37 percent of U.S. adults are current or former smokers, with 10 million people qualifying for CT scans under the new guidelines.

The panel also stressed that the tests aren’t for everyone, recommending that people who have been nonsmokers for at least 15 years and those who are not healthy enough to withstand treatment for lung cancer not undergo the scans.

EARLY DETECTION AND TREATMENT COULD SAVE 20,000 LIVES

Usually, lung cancer is diagnosed too late for treatment to succeed, but until now there hasn’t been a good means of early detection.

According to the Associated Press, USPSTF co-chair Dr. Michael LeFevre, a University of Missouri family physician, noted that the new guidelines could help prevent up to 20,000 lung-cancer deaths if the cancer is detected and treated early.

ACA SUPPORTS USPSTF CANCER SCREENING GUIDELINES

Guidelines established by the USPSTF set standards for clinicians and insurers, both governmental and commercial.

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Dr. LeFevre, co-vice chair of the USPSTF, emphasized that while screening clearly can benefit some people, “the best way to avoid lung cancer death is to stop smoking.”

The task force proposed the screenings last summer, and last week’s officially published recommendations clear the way for insurers to begin paying for the scans, which cost between $300 and $500, according to the American Lung Association.

Under the Affordable Care Act, cancer screenings that are backed by the task force are supposed to be covered with no copays or deductibles, although plans have a year to adopt new recommendations

Dr. LeFevre emphasized that while screening clearly can benefit some people, “the best way to avoid lung cancer death is to stop smoking.”


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