Changing the lung cancer landscape

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among men and women; however, the most common type of lung cancer sometimes can be cured if it’s found early enough, which is now possible with low-dose computed tomography (CT) scans.

“This new screening process will change the future of lung cancer, and the potential to save lives is enormous,” says UT Southwestern pulmonary disease specialist Muhanned Abu-Hijleh, M.D.

Who qualifies and should be screened?

Annual low-dose CT scans for lung cancer may be covered for those who:

  • Currently smoke or stopped smoking within the past 15 years
  • Have a written order from a physician asking for the CT scan
  • Are age 55 to 77
  • Smoked a pack a day for 30 years (or two packs a day for 15 years, or the equivalent)

In 2012, results from the National Lung Cancer Screening Trial, which involved 53,000 patients who were at high risk for lung cancer, showed that the use of low-dose CT scans resulted in a 20 percent reduction of mortality. Thanks to those encouraging results, Medicare and Medicaid began in 2015 to cover lung cancer screening. Many health insurance providers also provide full or partial coverage for those who qualify for the test.

Other risk factors may be considered, such as exposure to certain chemicals, radon, and secondhand smoke, as well as a personal or family history of cancer. Your health care provider can discuss such factors and assess whether the screening will help you.

While Dr. Abu-Hijleh and colleagues are optimistic about the promise of early-detection screening and the development of a complementary blood test that could fine-tune the screening process even further, they note that quitting smoking is still by far the most effective prevention. “Quitting smoking and avoiding other harmful exposures remain the cornerstone of lung cancer prevention and risk reduction,” Dr. Abu-Hijleh says.