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Lung Cancer Screening Now Covered by Medicare


Those at High Risk Encouraged to Get Screened

Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center commends Medicare for covering lung cancer screening for Medicare beneficiaries who are at high risk and meet the requirements—over age 50, have a heavy smoking history, and/or have a family history of lung cancer.

Now, those who need it most will have covered access to a low dose CT scan to screen for lung cancer, a test that can save more lives than any cancer test in history.

“We’ve been looking forward to this ruling since November—it signals a new day where lung cancer begins the transition from the number one cancer killer to a treatable, curable disease,” says Elbert Kuo, MD, lung surgeon and director of the lung cancer screening program at St. Joseph’s Norton Thoracic Institute.

This ruling finalizes a draft decision issued in Nov. 2014 that brings the benefit of screening to approximately five million American seniors, the group most at-risk for lung cancer. This represents close to half of the entire at-risk public who would qualify for screening.

“Every eight minutes, someone in the United States is diagnosed with lung cancer,” Dr. Kuo explains. “Right now, diagnosis is often made once symptoms are present—a chronic cough, chest pain or coughing up blood. By that time, the disease is already extraordinarily difficult to cure. Medicare coverage will help us change the statistics.”

St. Joseph’s Norton Thoracic Institute launched its lung cancer screening program just over three years ago and is committed to providing individuals at high quality screening and follow up care. In addition to diagnosing lung cancer, the scans have also effectively detected a few cases of advanced lung disease, breast cancer, lymphoma and cardiac disease. All results are reviewed by a multidisciplinary team to develop an individual comprehensive care plan for each patient—putting them on track to a healthier lifestyle.

“Up to 86 percent of our patients cut back or quit smoking after their initial screening.  Approximately 35 percent have begun following a healthier diet, and 44 percent started exercising more,” said Dr. Kuo. The program includes a one-on-one consult with a physician to review results, which are communicated to patients and their primary care doctors.

“For St. Joseph’s, the decision to screen began long before this decision from Medicare,” said Laurie Fenton Ambrose, Lung Cancer Alliance President & CEO. “We applaud this lifesaving pro-activeness. These are our heroes who are on the front line, putting the needs of those at risk first.”

Existing data shows that low-dose CT screening is the only proven way to detect lung cancer early enough to save lives. One of the largest randomized controlled clinical trials in National Cancer Institute's history showed that low dose CT screening could reduce lung cancer mortality rates by at least 20 percent; a significant improvement for a cancer that currently has a five year overall survival rate of only 17 percent.  For those diagnosed late stage, survival rates are less than 4%. — St. Joseph’s

For more information on the screening program at St. Joseph’s, call 855.586.4727 or visit us online.

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