Published on November 28, 2016

Lung cancer screening is saving lives

Kurt Oettel, MD, FACP

Kurt Oettel, MD, FACP

Lung cancer, the number one cancer killer for both men and women, is usually asymptomatic until the disease has reached an advanced stage. The National Lung Screening Trial (2011) showed that annual screening of high-risk patients with low-dose CT scans can reduce lung cancer mortality by 20 percent.

Gundersen Health System recommends lung cancer screening for adults who are heavy smokers, or those who used to smoke heavily but have quit (see eligibility requirements below).

"As screening is becoming more mainstream, we are catching patients with earlier stage disease—stage 1 and 2 lung cancers—when it is more treatable," according to Gundersen medical oncologist Kurt Oettel, MD, FACP.

The Affordable Care Act now mandates coverage for this important preventive care service. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) also covers lung CT screening for patients who meet the following eligibility requirements:

  • Patients must first be seen by a qualified provider for "shared decision-making." All of the following must be completed before requesting a lung screening CT scan: a discussion of the benefits and risks of screening (including false positives and false negatives), potential need for additional testing, and the need for yearly screening until age 77 or until cancer treatment would be unwise. Radiation dose concerns and smoking cessation must also be addressed.
  • Medicare/Medicaid beneficiaries must be 55-77 years old and have a "high-risk" history of tobacco use. For current smokers, "high-risk" is defined as ≥ 30 pack-years. Former smokers (also ≥ 30 pack-years) must have quit within the last 15 years. There should be no symptoms of lung cancer.

CMS considers screening patients outside these parameters as cost-ineffective. Patients who are screened but found to be ineligible will likely have to pay out of pocket. Requirements for privately insured patients may vary. These patients should confirm benefits prior to scheduling a shared decision-making visit.

While work remains in the fight against lung cancer, screening high-risk patients is a huge step forward. "We are starting to see more lung cancer survivors, and when we see more survivors, we see greater advocacy," states Dr. Oettel.

With your help, we can reduce the morbidity and mortality of lung cancer in our region. To refer a patient for a CT scan, contact Gundersen Imaging via MedLink at (608) 775-5465 or (800) 336-5465.

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