The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has endorsed a BWH-led team's recommended use of low-dose CT for lung cancer screening.

In 2012, we published a post about the recommendations of a lung cancer screening and surveillance task force, led by Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) physicians, to expand the use of low-dose computed tomography (CT) scans for patients at high risk of lung cancer. Now, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), an independent panel of primary care physicians that evaluates preventive health services, has endorsed the recommendations of the BWH task force.

“More Americans die from lung cancer than any other type of cancer. This is a firm and determined recommendation in favor of screening, and there is high certainty that patients will benefit from this recommendation,” says Dr. Michael Jaklitsch, a thoracic surgeon at BWH and co-chair of a lung screening and surveillance task force established by the American Association for Thoracic Surgery (AATS).

Dr. Jaklitsch notes that nearly 250,000 new lung cancer cases will be identified this year. Unfortunately, only 15 percent of these patients will be found with early stage disease. Yet, lung cancer can be cured up to 88 percent of the time that early stage disease is found. Screening programs have been successful in reducing cancer deaths related to breast cancer (mammography), colon cancer (colonoscopy), and prostate cancer (PSA and rectal exams). Until now, there has been no screening test for lung cancer, even though lung cancer kills more Americans than breast cancer, colon cancer, and prostate cancer combined. The USPSTF recommendation will establish lung cancer screening guidelines and is expected to dramatically reduce deaths from this devastating disease.

The USPSTF is recommending annual low-dose CT lung screening for men and women between the ages of 55 and 79 who have a 30 pack-year history of smoking or who have quit smoking in the last 15 years. The recommendation is expected to lead to reimbursement from Medicare and private insurance companies.

Dr. Francine Jacobson, a thoracic radiologist at BWH who also co-chaired the AATS lung screening and surveillance task force, says, “This is an incredible change of events from just two years ago. This screening recommendation, which includes the upper age limit that the AATS task force recommended, will lead to earlier detection of lung cancer and save lives.”

Concerned about lung cancer? Talk to your doctor, who can advise you about whether low-dose CT makes sense for you. Due to current insurance limitations, some patients will have to pay the cost of the scan themselves. The scan costs about $400.  Negotiations with payers are underway to have the screening CT scans covered by health insurance. Visit our Lung Cancer Screening Program Web page to learn more.

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– Jamie R

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