Currently, patients are only given CT scans to check for lung cancer if they are experiencing symptoms associated with the disease. Most major insurers do not cover the test for asymptomatic patients who are at high-risk for lung cancer due to a long history of smoking.
But a recent study looking at the effectiveness of regular CT scans of chronic smokers in reducing the number of lung cancer deaths has found that early detection could result in 35 percent fewer deaths, at a per person cost that is on par with, or less than every cancer screening tool being employed today.
According to researchers, if every high-risk person in the US – or those 50 and over who have smoked a pack a day for at least 30 years – undergoes a CT scan, 130,000 people would avoid dying from lung cancer each year. At a cost of $19,000 to $26,000 per year of life saved, lung cancer screening would be just as cost-effective as colonoscopies, the most cost-effective cancer screening tool today.
The study’s authors, actuaries from the consulting firm Milliman and a Chicago lung cancer expert, are advising health insurers of their findings in the hope that they begin to provide coverage for spiral CT lung cancer screenings, which is expected to cost insurers less than a dollar each year for each person they insure.
As always, though, the first step in being proactive about your health is to see a doctor. If you’re a current or former smoker, make an appointment with a pulmonologist near you to check for signs of lung cancer, COPD, asthma, or other lung conditions.