by Vicki Griffin
Originally published at ajc.com on July 29th, 2011
Lung cancer is the deadliest of all cancers, claiming more lives each year than breast, colon, kidney, liver and melanoma cancers combined. That’s largely because lung cancer is only rarely detected at the earliest and most treatable stages. Dauntingly, when lung cancer is discovered, symptoms are present and the disease has metastasized beyond the lungs.
Currently, only 15 percent of lung cancer patients live five years or more once the cancer is uncovered and treated. The bleak bottom line is that lung cancer overwhelmingly terminates lives within months of the initial diagnosis. But these harrowing statistics may become past tense as the National Lung Cancer Screening trial sheds new light on previously dark diagnoses.
The five-year study, sponsored by the National Cancer Institute, followed more than 53,000 high-risk participants in 25 states, including Georgia, and compared the effectiveness of standard chest X-rays to low-dose helical multiple-image CT scans in detecting lung cancer at the earliest stages.
Adenocarcinomas were discovered in the early, more treatable stages in the trial, and as a result reduced the number of lung cancer deaths in high-risk current and former smokers by a stunning 20 percent.
Emory University conducted the trials in Georgia. And the downtown campus, Midtown and Emory Johns Creek Hospital locations will screen heavy and former smokers over age 50 beginning Monday for a cost of about $325.
WellStar’s Kennestone Hospital and suburban locations in Marietta and Dallas also have low-dose spiral computed tomography technology facilities and provide the screening tests for $270 to those considered high-risk.
Insurance does not cover screening, but for those with symptoms or when prescribed as medically necessary, insurance may cover them as diagnostic tests.
The low-dose spiral CT scans are rapid and noninvasive and subject patients to roughly the same amount of radiation as the standard mammography used to detect breast cancer. Also, false positives can be confirmed with follow-up CT scans that show no change over time.
It is hoped that pressure and demand will induce insurers to cover screenings soon. Also to be determined would be the inclusion of other groups who may benefit, such as light smokers and young smokers.
Most smokers begin the addictive habit before they are 18 years old, when they are not old enough to know better and are more quickly hooked. Over their lifetimes, smokers from the senior class of 2002 alone will put a projected $22.9 billion into the pockets of cigarette manufacturers.
Lung cancer kills more people than breast, prostate and colon cancer combined, yet routine screening is covered for all but lung cancer. Health care costs must be contained, but late stage lung cancer treatment is more costly than early. And given their culpability, doesn’t it seem reasonable, responsible and right to require that a portion of tobacco company profits be used to cover the medical costs their products cause their consumers?
Copyright 2011, Atlanta Journal-Constitution