Lung Cancer Screening Approved

Most individuals who have COPD are at increased risk for lung cancer because of cigarette smoking. On February 5, 2015, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced they will pay for lung cancer screening with low-dose CT scans for eligible individuals. This coverage is effective immediately. However, the details are quite specific and are summarized here. You must be:
  1. 55 to 77 years of age
  2. either current smokers or quit smoking in the previous 15 years
  3. have a 30 pack-year history of tobacco smoking (an average of one pack a day for 30 years)
  4. have a written order from a physician or qualified non-physician (nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant) that meets certain requirements
  5. have a visit for counseling and shared decision-making on the benefits and risks of lung cancer screening
There are additional requirements for radiologists interpreting the CT scans and for places (hospitals and imaging centers)  where the CT scan is done. If you qualify and are interested in have the screening CT scan done, you should ask your doctor whether the local hospital or medical center is doing such testing. It may take a while for some health care facilities to get ready for such screening. Of note: “This is the first time that Medicare has covered lung cancer screening. This is an important new Medicare preventive benefit, since lung cancer is the third most common cancer and the leading cause of cancer death in the United States,” said Patrick Conway, MD, chief medical officer and deputy administrator for innovation and quality at the CMS.    

Donald A. Mahler, M.D. is Emeritus Professor of Medicine at Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth in Hanover, New Hampshire. He works as a pulmonary physician at Valley Regional Hospital in Claremont, NH, where he is Director of Respiratory Services.