Long time smoker Glen Trossana admits he is worried about his lung cancer risk. “It is obviously a life threatening issue, and smoking doesn’t do anything, it is just terrible.” Lena is a 20 year smoker. “I am screened by x-ray and read my own x-ray along with a physician.” But routine chest x-rays have not been shown to be an effective lung cancer screening tool.
Finally, however, a landmark study: a screening cat scans of the lung in a current or former smoker who is otherwise healthy, with no symptoms, is indeed an effective screening tool for lung cancer. “When you find it early you can cure almost all of them over ninety percent,” says Dr. Claudia Henschke, the lead author at New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center who has pioneered the effort to show that yes, ct screening is to lung cancer what colonoscopy is for colon cancer and mammography is for breast cancer if one acts quickly on the cat scan findings.
Patients diagnosed with stage one disease and who underwent surgical resection within a month had a 92 percent ten year survival rate. Now there were a handful of patients, eight of them, who were diagnosed with stage one disease but who didn’t get any treatment at all. All of them died within five years. And, this data shows it’s perhaps more effective than mammography, with at least the same, if not greater rate of cancer detection.
And, it’s worth the money. “When you find something in early stage you do surgery, that costs less than half of what it cost for late stage disease,” says Dr. Henschke. So now, it’s up to agencies like the NIH and the National Cancer Institute to give this procedure their blessing…which will trigger payment of the test by Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance.
“We think our evidence is compelling and compelling evidence should be evaluated as to what changes should be made in the recommendation,” states Dr. Henschke. Until then, you’ll likely have to pay the 200 to 300 dollars each year to get an annual exam—a tough thing for 30 year smoker Michael cutler.
“I am interested but three hundred dollars is a lot of money,” Michael says. But to prevent dying from lung cancer, perhaps it’s worth it. Dr. Henschke recommends that if you are a current or former smoker, talk to your doctor about getting a screening cat scan of the chest, and go to a highly qualified institution that does chest cat scans routinely. Remember, for this to be effective, you have to get a cat scan every year.