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High-risk smokers aren’t getting tested for lung cancer, study suggests

Researchers said low lung cancer screening rates are “disappointing”

Annual lung cancer screenings can help save lives. However, few patients take advantage of them, according to a new report. 

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Researchers from the American College of Radiology’s Lung Cancer Screening Registry recently conducted a study to determine how many high-risk smokers get free annual lung cancer screenings. 

To do so, they gathered data from its index, which contains information from 1,796 accredited radiographic sites across the United States. They then estimated the number of people who were eligible for free scans under an initiative from the U.S. Preventative Service Task Force (USPSTF). Eligible patients include people aged 55 through 80 who smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years. 

After analyzing the results, they found that 7.6 million Americans met the criteria for testing in 2016. However, only 141,260 tests were performed− that’s just under 2 percent.

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At a closer look, the Northeast saw 3.5 percent of eligible patients tested, the Midwest had a rate of 1.9 percent and the South had a rate of 1.6 percent. 

“Annual low-dose CT screening ... remains inadequate,” researcher Danh Pham said at a press briefing prior to the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting. He noted that the analysis was “a call to arms to increase much-needed screening.”

Although the researchers called their findings “disappointing,” they did note that the study only evaluated the first year after all of the evidence, funding and recommendations were in place. 

In 2013, the USPSTF recommended that high-risk smokers get tested each year using low-dose computed tomography. The examination has been proven to reduce death from lung cancer by 20 percent compared with chest x-ray. And in 2015, Medicare agreed to pay for the screenings.

Lung cancer is the deadliest cancer, with an estimated 154,050 deaths projected for 2018. Pham predicts that higher screening rates could prevent up to 12,000 deaths a year. 

He said lung cancer doctors, “would like to be put out of business.”

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