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Has the time come to screen all high risk patients for lung cancer?

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has produced draft recommendations that for the first time support screening high risk patients for lung cancer, the number one cause of cancer deaths in both men and women. (Read entire article in the New York Times.) This is important because access to the screening test – a low-dose CT scan administered annually which has been proven to decrease deaths from lung cancer – has been limited because most insurers and Medicare did not cover the cost (around $200). That will probably change because of the task force recommendations. Older patients with a history of smoking should now be able to get these tests once these recommendations go into effect.

It is important for patients and their families to remember that lung cancer screening involves more than a single low-dose CT scan … as one of my colleagues says, “Screening is a program and not just a (single) test.” Screening only begins when an abnormality is identified on a CT scan. What happens next? A biopsy, more scans, surgery? This is the heart of a screening program and how these next steps are carried our makes all the difference to the patient. Therefore, screening should be performed at an experienced center, such as Fox Chase Cancer Center, with medical staff who know what to do next; who are prepared to perform the appropriate follow up studies; and who have the latest technology to minimize the risk of any diagnostic or therapeutic procedures that may need to be performed.