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Let’s Talk About Lung Cancer
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in men and women, and the third most common non-skin cancer in the United States. Lung cancer is treatable, especially when detected and diagnosed at an early stage. The reason lung cancer has such high mortality rates is because it is often detected in its late stages. Treatment options depend on factors such as the type of lung cancer, its stage, the patient’s overall health, and their treatment preferences. Common treatment approaches include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, and palliative care. The goal of any cancer treatment is to remove or shrink the tumor, slow growth, alleviate symptoms, and improve the patient’s quality of life. Despite this, more than half of people with lung cancer die within one year of being diagnosed.
Cigarette smoking causes up to 90% of lung cancer deaths in the United States, so the best thing you can do to prevent lung cancer is to not smoke or quit smoking if you are a smoker. Another way to reduce your risk of lung cancer is to avoid secondhand smoke; nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work have a 20 to 30% greater chance of developing lung cancer. Other risk factors that cannot be changed include occupational exposure to carcinogens, a family history of lung cancer, and genetic predisposition.
What Is Lung Cancer Screening?
Screening is looking for cancer before a person has any symptoms, which can help detect cancer at an early stage when it is easier to treat. Some types of screening tests, such as colonoscopies or mammograms, are recommended for all adults whether they are considered high risk or not. Let’s delve into the importance of lung cancer screening for at-risk patients, specifically low-dose computed tomography (LDCT), and the benefits and challenges associated with proactive screening.
In high-risk patients, early detection through lung cancer screening can significantly improve outcomes, by up to 20 percent. The only recommended screening test for lung cancer is LDCT, which has been shown to decrease the risk of dying from lung cancer in heavy smokers. It involves the use of low levels of radiation, like an x-ray, to create detailed images of the lungs. The scan can detect small abnormalities that may indicate the presence of lung cancer. During an LDCT you lie on a table and an x-ray machine scans your chest. It only takes a few minutes and it’s not painful.
Risk But Not Yet Diagnosed
What can you do if you don’t have lung cancer but you’re a heavy or a lifetime smoker? Current guidelines typically recommend screening for individuals who meet specific criteria, including age, smoking history, and risk factors such as occupational exposures (see insert). Healthcare providers play a critical role in identifying at-risk patients and recommending screening. Hardin Medical Center requires that patients complete an eligibility questionnaire prior to lung cancer screening. Many of the ACS criteria are included in this form. About 8 million Americans qualify as high risk for lung cancer and are recommended to receive annual screening. Patient education and shared decision-making are essential so that patients understand the benefits, limitations, and possible adverse events that can occur with screening.
One challenge of lung cancer screening is the potential for false-negative results, or more concerning, false-positive results, which can lead to unnecessary invasive diagnostic tests and increased patient anxiety. Another risk of screening is overdiagnosis. This occurs when the scan identifies cancers that may have never caused symptoms or harm to the person, although it’s not clear how often this happens.
Does Insurance Cover Lung Cancer Screening?
Insurance coverage typically depends on the specific insurance plan and policy a patient has. At the time of this article, Medicare covers LDCT screen once per year if a person meets certain criteria. The American Cancer Society, in addition to establishing screening guidelines, has encouraged insurance companies to cover lung cancer screening for those people who meet the criteria. In many cases, health insurance does cover a portion of lung cancer treatment, such as surgery, chemotherapy, and certain medications. But the extent of coverage can vary widely. Patients may need to meet certain criteria or obtain pre-authorization for specific treatments or procedures.
There are organizations and resources that can assist patients in understanding and accessing available financial support, including government programs, nonprofit organizations, and pharmaceutical companies that offer patient assistance programs for certain medications. Cancer centers and hospitals often have social workers or financial counselors who can help patients explore their options and find ways to manage the costs of treatment. It’s important, however, for patients to review their insurance policy, understand what treatments are covered, and work closely with their doctors and insurance company to navigate all aspects of their treatment.
Leading the Charge in Reducing Lung Cancer Deaths
Early detection is a powerful weapon in the battle against lung cancer. Expanding access to screening and raising awareness of screening tools are at the forefront of Hardin Medical Center’s efforts to save countless lives and reduce the burden of lung cancer. Hardin Medical Center combines state-of-the-art cancer care with comprehensive screening, diagnostics, treatment, and support services in one location. Contact your health care provider if you think you may be eligible for lung cancer screening.