Lung cancer screenings recommended for early detection

Lung cancer is the most common form of cancer worldwide, and Kentucky leads the nation in lung cancer deaths. Lung cancer kills more Kentuckians than breast, prostate and colon cancer combined. Nationwide, 77 percent of all lung cancers reside in 20 percent of all zip codes. The highest concentration of lung cancer in Kentucky is in the eastern part of the state.

Recent evidence from the National Lung Screening Trial recommends screening high-risk persons for lung cancer using low-dose CT (LDCT). High-risk persons are defined as those ages 55 to 77 years, who have cigarette smoking histories of 30 or more pack-years and who — if they are former smokers — have quit within the last 15 years.

It is also important to note that screening with chest x-rays does not reduce mortality from lung cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended screening with LDCT on Dec. 31, 2013. Medicare approved coverage on Feb. 5, 2015, enabling high-risk patients with private and public insurance to have access to this potentially life-saving exam.

Medicare included a requirement that, before LDCT screening, a beneficiary must receive counseling and participate in a shared decision-making visit to include risks and benefits.

Screening for early detection of lung cancer holds tremendous promise because lung cancer symptoms usually do not occur until the cancer is advanced. Lung cancer diagnosed at early stages has better treatment outcomes, thus screening has the potential to improve survival and reduce mortality.

The link between smoking and lung cancer has stigmatized the disease. Under-treatment is attributed to nihilism from patients because of the assumption that treatment offers little benefit. However, recent advances in lung cancer treatment include new, less invasive methods to surgically resect lung cancer and the approval of new therapies that target the cancer by activating the immune system against the cancer.

Please discuss the early screening process with your medical provider.

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Will Miller is a certified physician assistant at the Clover Fork Clinic.