It wasn’t very long ago professional organizations like The American Academy of Family Physicians would recommend against using an annual low-dose computed tomography scan to identify lung cancer. Particularly in patients over 50 years-old, who are or were recently heavy smokers. The thinking was, the risk of false positives and the invasive procedures required to verify and treat the condition of lung cancer, were better balanced by waiting for more definitive symptoms. That thinking has changed in the last few years. Mostly due to new, less-invasive procedures, new awareness around the danger of smoking.
Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer in the United States. By far. It’s responsible for 127,000 lives lost each year. With new and emerging technologies, like low-dose CT scans, that number could fall dramatically. Currently, only about 6% of eligible individuals are utilizing this potentially lifesaving technology. Put that number in perspective, 60% of eligible people are seen for other regularly recommended scans such as breast imaging (mammography) and colorectal cancer screening. As more and more physicians and professional organizations continue to push low-dose CT as potentially lifesaving, that number should continue to increase. According to the American Lung Association, the five year survival rate for those whose lung cancer is diagnosed prior to spreading, rises to 60% from just 7%. That’s worth taking a look.
Lung cancer is most often a result of a history of smoking. Heavy smokers, particularly those over the age of 50, are prime candidates for this scan. While recommended to be done annually, getting started is the most important thing. There does not appear to be a connection between gender or race. Right now, the biggest inertia is getting the message out about the effectiveness of early detection. Low-dose CT scans definitely provide early detection of lung cancer in heavy and recently-former smokers of all genders and races.
The good news is that most insurers are covering annual low-dose CT scans. This makes sense because the new techniques and procedures emerging are far less-invasive and costly than traditional cancer treatments. In fact, quite often, a simple biopsy can remove the cancerous cells before they begin to spread. That’s good news for everyone.