Medicare Adds Lung Cancer Screening Coverage

lungs x-rayLung cancer now appears to be responsible for more cancer deaths among women in the developed world than breast cancer, making it the leading cause of cancer death for women in these countries. There is, however, encouraging lung cancer news: as of February 2015, Medicare is covering low-dose CT (computed tomography) screening for the disease.

This finding of the rise in lung cancer deaths over breast cancer deaths was made by researchers at the American Cancer Society, who collaborated with the International Agency for Research on Cancer. They blame the growing incidence on the use of tobacco products by women, a trend that was later to develop in women overall than in men in developed countries. Lung cancer has been the leading cause of cancer death for men for some time. Smoking—a known cause of lung cancer—also tends to be more common in the developed world versus the developing world.[1]

With this rise in lung cancer in the developed world, preventive strategies are increasingly important. Getting people to stop using tobacco products is of course a critical step; increasing access to screening and early detection is also key.

Recently, Medicare made progress when it comes to screening: the agency announced in February 2015 that would it immediately start covering the cost of low-dose CT screening for lung cancer for certain people who have Medicare insurance.[2]

People who qualify for the low-dose CT screening benefit are enrolled in Medicare, are 55 to 77 years old, have a history of smoking an average of one pack per day for 30 years, show no signs or symptoms of lung cancer, and currently smoke (or did as recently as 15 years ago). For coverage, Medicare also requires that patients submit a written screening order from their doctor.

This is especially good news for efforts to prevent lung cancer because screening with CT has been shown to help reduce lung caner death in individuals at high risk.[3]  The CT screening coverage also includes counseling about the benefits and risks (such as radiation exposure) of the screening procedure and follow-up information, so that patients and doctors can make informed decisions together.

While no one welcomes news that rates of lung cancer are increasing in the developed world, it’s hopeful that with the new Medicare coverage for CT screening, we’ll soon start to see lower incidence of lung cancer in the United States.

References:

[1] Torre LA, Bray F, Siegel RL, et al. Global Cancer statistics, 2012. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. 2015; DOI: 10.3322/caac.21262.

[2] National Coverage Determination (NCD) for Screening for Lung Cancer with Low Dose Computed Tomography (LDCT) [press release]. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Available at http://www.cms.gov/Newsroom/MediaReleaseDatabase/Press-releases/2015-Press-releases-items/2015-02-05.html. Accessed March 15, 2015.

[3] National Lung Screening Trial Research Team. Reduced Lung-Cancer Mortality with Low-Dose Computed Tomographic Screening. New England Journal of Medicine. August 2011 4;365(5):395-409.