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Heavy smokers should have annual lung scan, task force says

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
July 30th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

A government task force is recommending that if people can't make adjustments to their lifestyles, that they should at least have preventative medical tests. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force or USPSTF say that up to nine million Americans should have annual lung scans. The recommendation is significant, as the test which runs $250 to $300 could soon be provided by insurance companies for free.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The task force says that at least nine million people have smoked the equivalent of a pack a day for 30 years, An annual lung scan could save up to 20 percent of these people from developing lung cancer.  

Heavy smokers who are at least 55 should have an annual CT scan to check for lung cancer, the panel recommends. 


"It ranks it alongside mammography, colonoscopy, some other established cancer screening tests," Dr. Kenneth Lin, a former task force member says. Lin is now an associate professor of family medicine at Georgetown University. "This screening test can sometimes find lung cancers at a treatable stage and . we can cure people that we otherwise might not have been able to cure."


"This is a tremendous opportunity to really change the tide in lung cancer treatment," Dr. Christopher Lathan, a lung cancer expert at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School in Boston. He told reporters that he was "ecstatic" by the news.


Lin however is a little more cautious. "I think this is an advance but at the same time I don't think that everybody should necessarily run out and get this test because of all the problems that the test can cause in the long run," he says.


The USPSTF estimates that there are nine million heavy smokers, which includes current smokers aged 55 to 80 or former heavy smokers who quit less than 15 years ago. Patients who smoked even more heavily, such as three packs a day for 10 years would be included. 


"They are right in the heart of what the science shows," Dr. Peter Bach of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York says. The American Lung Association has some guidance here.


The idea of screening people who seem healthy for lung cancer has been highly controversial since it was first proposed more than a decade ago. Smoking is the single biggest cause of cancers of all types and it causes most cases of lung cancer, and remains the largest cancer killer.


As it doesn't start causing symptoms until it's already spread, lung cancer is among the most insidious of all killers. Responsible for the deaths of nearly 160,000 people a year, according to the American Cancer Society. The idea of screening people and catching the cancer early is an appealing one.


Dr. Claudia Henschke of the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, who led a study that started the push for screening, says she is delighted. "It is going to make a big difference to how many people die of lung cancer," she told NBC News.


"Back in 1999 when we published our results, we were very confident that it was going to make a big difference," she added. "Now, finally, it will be made available to those people who are at highest risk. I am thrilled."



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