By Michelle Wehrly, Alegent Creighton Health Nurse Practitioner
If you’re a healthy adult between 55 and 80 and at high risk for lung cancer, an independent panel of medical experts says you should be screened once a year for lung cancer.
The 12-year-long study of more than 50,000 patients finds as many as 20,000 deaths a year could be prevented with low-dose computed tomography, or CT scans, because cancer would be detected at an earlier stage where curative treatment is still possible. The total of lung cancer deaths is about 160,000 every year.
Some 10 million people meet the task force’s definition of “high risk:” those 55 to 80 who have a 30 pack-year history and currently smoke or quit within the last 15 years. A 30 pack-year history is someone who smoked one pack a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years.
Under a new model at Alegent Creighton Health Lung Health Center, patients who test positive in a screening can expect a confirmed diagnosis quickly and the start of treatment soon after that. Historically patients who had abnormal chest scans or suspicious lesions might have to wait several weeks or even months for follow-up care and treatment.
“With a system like this we can get you in within days, make the diagnosis and recommend a treatment plan faster,” Bryan Krajicek, M.D., a pulmonary specialist at the Lung Health Center, said.
A lung cancer screening test costs $250 out-of-pocket but patients can try to be reimbursed through their insurance company. The panel’s recommendation could require new insurance plans to cover the screenings under the Affordable Care Act.
The panel did find there’s a downside to more screening—more false positives, additional testing and even overdiagnosis, where a cancer might not progress and be fatal. Panel members also urge that the best way to avoid lung cancer is not to smoke.