Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths for both men and women in our country and this far exceeds those deaths for breast, colon, prostate, and pancreatic cancers, combined. 85% to 90% of the people diagnosed with lung cancer are current or former smokers; the risk of lung cancer is directly related to tobacco smoke exposure (smoking). Until recently, there was not a well-established means for detecting lung cancer and survival rates were dismal.
Swedish Cancer Institute and Seattle Radiology have been screening for lung cancer by low dose CT scan since 2000 as Principal Investigators in the International Early Lung Cancer Action Program, an international screening registry. This program, in addition to the large National Lung Screening Trial by the National Cancer Institute and several other international lung screening research trials, has been instrumental in delivering the need for lung cancer screening to the forefront and addressing this dreadful cancer in a complete face off. This research has clearly demonstrated an ability to significantly improve survival and save lives by early detection of lung cancer through routine low dose CT scan imaging.
Nearly a year ago the United States Preventive Services Task Force made a formal Grade B recommendation for lung cancer screening, by low dose CT scan, in high-risk people. People, who have smoked at least 30 years with an average of one pack per day, are ages 55 through 80, currently smoking or quit in the past 15 years define this “high-risk” status. The Affordable Care Act mandates financial coverage for this preventive health service but only has influence over commercial insurers, not Medicare and Medicaid health insurers. Largely, Medicare and Medicaid insure a majority of the people who will benefit from screening, and to date this has left them without a coverage benefit for lung cancer screening.
Creating an awareness of lung cancer and gaining coverage for high-risk people who would greatly benefit from screening has been a long road. We have organizations including the Lung Cancer Alliance to thank for their years of tireless and fervent work on moving lung cancer screening into mainstream healthcare delivery and saving lives.
Yesterday was a great day in the world of lung cancer screening. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) delivered a proposal to provide coverage for lung cancer screening for those who are at high-risk. CMS has defined parameters in which screening should occur. A more in-depth discussion regarding these parameters and reimbursement will be posted to this blog in the coming week.