WHO IS AT RISK?
Age and smoking history are the two main factors used to determine if someone is at high risk for lung cancer and possibly a good candidate for screening. Although some screening facilities screen outside these age guidelines, the basic age requirements for lung cancer screening are between the ages of 55-80. The National Lung Screening Trial defined those at high risk for lung cancer as men and women with a history of heavy smoking.
Heavy smoking was defined as a 30-pack-year smoking history. For example, someone who smoked two packs a day for 15 years has a 30-pack-year smoking history. Likewise, someone who smoked a pack a day for 30 years or someone who smoked three packs a day for 10 years, have a 30-pack-year smoking history.
Perhaps surprising to many is that former smokers, even those who quit 15 years ago, are also defined as being at high risk for lung cancer. In fact, half of the people diagnosed with lung cancer—more than 113,000 Americans each year—are former smokers. And the majority of these people quit more than a decade before their diagnosis. Unfortunately, few former smokers realize they remain at high risk for lung cancer. One reason this is not common knowledge is that some people and organizations fear that smokers would be less motivated to quit.
For former smokers, the added requirement is that you quit within the previous 15 years. For example, someone who met the other guidelines but quit 30 years ago would not necessarily qualify as a good screening candidate. Someone who quit 12 years and met the age and smoking qualifications may very well benefit from screening.
Some guidelines are more relaxed for a patient who has an additional risk factor, such as being exposed to high levels of radon or having a family history of lung cancer. The age requirement and smoking history are lowered for those with a second risk factor, based on the National Comprehensive Cancer Network’s guidelines. If you have an additional qualifying risk factor, talk to your doctor to see if you are a good candidate for lung cancer screening.
WHERE CAN I GET SCREENED FOR LUNG CANCER?
Lung cancer screening is a newly-approved procedure. Soon, virtually every cancer center, community hospital and imaging center will have a lung cancer screening program. Many already do. Understand that it may take time for some organizations, especially in smaller communities, to purchase the equipment, hire professionals and develop their lung cancer screening program.
One reason we are confident that every community will soon have a lung cancer screening program is that, from a business perspective, lung cancer screening generates revenue for these organizations. Here’s how.
First, lung cancer screening is covered by most private insurance companies. (To date, October 13, 2014, advocates are petitioning for Medicare coverage, as well.) So people covered by insurance will have to pay no copay or deductible. This offers an incentive for those at risk to get screened.
Next, lung cancer screening may reveal small nodules that are more often than not harmless. However, they can’t be dismissed without continued monitoring or further diagnostic testing.
Also, lung cancer screening also offers additional health benefits by uncovering potential health problems that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. This, too, may lead to further medical tests.
Finally, if screening detects lung cancer, treatment, such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, most likely would follow.
So, from a humanitarian perspective, lung cancer screening saves lives. If that’s not a good enough for the number crunchers, there’s another reason: From a business perspective, lung cancer screening is a solid business investment and will generate revenue for struggling community hospitals and other medical organizations.
But while these organizations are developing their screening programs, your very life may be hanging in the balance. If at all possible, don’t delay. Get a low-dose CT scan as soon as possible. If the hospital in your town does not yet have a screening program, check out a nearby town. If you cannot locate a nearby facility to get screened, search online.
Lung Cancer Alliance has a list of screening facilities that meet their standard of excellence; however, other excellent facilities offer quality screening, as well. Here is a link to the Lung Cancer Alliance list: