Since about 2011, some hospitals have been performing CT scans for lung cancer screenings. Typically, there is a focus on high-risk patients and/or a-pack-a-day smokers. It has proved to be fairly effective by increasing survival rates by 20%. However, it has been at the center of some controversy. Some doctors say there is too high of a risk of a false positive, which can lead to unnecessary follow-up visits, unnecessary radiation doses, and adding to patient anxiety. Fortunately, an eight-year study was performed that shows that CT scans are still ideal for early detection over the simple chest x-ray.
The research showed that stage 1 and 2 five-year survival rate is at 22-67% – and stages 3 and 4 have a five-year survival rate at 1-25%. Since most lung cancers are caught at stages 3 and 4, the early CT scans become even more vital as they are more likely to catch cancer at stage 1 or 2. While we saw hospitals offering the CT scans slow down, this study has proved to many how important those early screenings are and more hospitals are now on board.
Unless you live in a rural area, more than likely your local hospital will offer these screenings. Rural areas suffer the most, as the hospitals are not often able to raise the funds needed for the equipment. Rural patients have to travel long distances to get CT scans. The reality is, many of those patients won’t get the screening due to the inconvenience and potential hardship the trip can create for them. This means that many patients are stuck being diagnosed in later stages when the symptoms show more readily. Pharmacists would do well to promote the early screenings as much as possible to their rural patients in an effort to raise their chances at survival, should they test positively for lung cancer.
The other challenge with early screenings is that many hospitals are reporting that Medicare and most health insurance plans are not covering the cost. This translates into an expense that could easily cost $400 or more that will have to come out of the patient’s pocket. This creates a new hardship for so many that those who should get the early screening will opt to put it off even longer. Lobbying for coverage becomes even more important when we have the tools to save lives and our health system works against us.
Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer death, and often sneaks up on our patients with very little warning. Becoming a voice encouraging early screenings and fighting for fair insurance coverages are just two things we can do to keep our patients safe and decrease the risk.