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How a Simple Screening Can Stop Cancer in its Tracks

Dr. Andrea McKee

American Lung Association

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths, which may come as a surprise to many. One factor is the lack of early symptoms, which often leads to a late diagnosis. However, there’s a new tool with the potential to forever change the trajectory of this deadly disease and it’s more available to Americans than ever: lung cancer screening.

Screening can lead to early diagnosis, increasing the chances of survival by five times. And the test is free to patients with Medicare and most other health insurances. So why aren’t more Americans who qualify getting screened?

Screening qualifications

It’s estimated that eight million Americans are considered at “high risk” for lung cancer and eligible for screening. The criteria for screening eligibility, set by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, includes those who are:

  • • 55-80 years of age;
  • • Have a 30 pack-a-year history of smoking (this means one pack a day for 30 years, two packs a day for 15 years, etc.);
  • • A current smoker or someone who has quit within the last 15 years

If all those who are eligible were screened, an estimated 25,000 lives would be saved. However, less than 5 percent of those who qualify are getting this lifesaving screening.

The Lung Association’s fourth annual LUNG FORCE Lung Health Barometer revealed that only 15 percent of those surveyed were aware of the recommendations for lung cancer screening, and that it is covered by Medicare and most healthcare plans at no cost. To save more lives, awareness about the availability of screening for those considered high risk must be raised.

The screening recommendation itself is relatively new, which is part of the reason why screening isn’t yet well known. It’s estimated to take about 10 years for a new technique to be fully embraced by the medical community, and Medicare reimbursement only began in 2015.

Raising awareness

A strategic imperative of the American Lung Association is to defeat lung cancer, so in order to get the word out and save lives, the American Lung Association partnered with the Ad Council to create the public awareness campaign, “Saved By The Scan.” The first of its kind, this campaign raises awareness about screening, encouraging those who might qualify to take an online eligibility quiz at SavedByTheScan.org, and talk to their doctor about their risk.

This conversation between patient and doctor is key. While many doctors may urge their patients to quit smoking, they might not yet be aware of recommended screening. And if the patient quit smoking a decade ago, the doctor might not realize the patient is a former smoker and potentially a candidate for screening.

Due to this reality, this public awareness campaign targets former smokers and features stories of those who were screened. As the “Saved By The Scan” campaign continues, and more current and former smokers who qualify are screened, we look forward to sharing more stories of lives saved.

I’m proud to volunteer with the American Lung Association to get the word out about the importance of talking to your doctor about screening. I encourage everyone to learn more at SavedByTheScan.org. Together, we can turn the tide against lung cancer.

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