After analyzing the result of a study, doctors found a 20% reduction in deaths among those who had low-dose CT scans rather than chest X-rays.
A prominent government health panel is recommending low-dose CT scans to screen current or former heavy smokers who are at high risk of lung cancer.
“Sadly, nearly 90% of people who develop lung cancer dies from the disease, in part because it is not found until it is at an advanced stage,” said Dr. Virginia Moyer, the chairwoman of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.
“By screening those at high risk, we can find lung cancer at earlier stages when it’s more likely to be treatable.”
The task force is an independent, voluntary group of primary care and prevention experts that reviews scientific studies and makes recommendations about about preventive services such as screenings, counseling, and preventive medications.
“Based on the available evidence, the U.S Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening people who are at high risk for lung cancer with annual low-dose CT scans, which can prevent a substantial number of lung cancer-related deaths,” the panel announced Monday.
Esther Pfeffer, a 59-year-old French translator and mother of two from New Jersey, signed up for Memorial Sloan- Kettering Cancer Center’s pilot screening program. A heavy smoker from the time she was 13 until she quit in her 40s, Pfeffer had a sister who died of smoking-related lung cancer in her late 30s.
Her scan showed no signs of cancer. She has to return once a year for the next two years.
“This has given me peace of mind,” said Pfeffer. “I do hope that they make it available to everyone and insurance will cover it. It will save lives.”
Dr. Nabil Rizk, thoracic surgeon and chief of Memorial Sloan-Kettering’s lung cancer screening program, said that although health care costs will initially go up, savings will be realized once people live longer and continue to work.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States and a devastating diagnosis for more than 200,000 men and women each year.
The panel’s long-awaited recommendation was hailed by doctors and patient advocates alike, who are hopeful this will pave the way for Medicare and private insurers to cover the annual scans as they now do for mammography.
The advocacy group Lung Cancer Alliance called the panel’s recommendation a “game changer.”
“This is a monumental moment in the fight against lung cancer,” the group said in a release. “If approved in final form, it will trigger Medicare and insurance coverage and bring about a dramatic drop in the leading cause of cancer deaths.”