The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends annual screening for people ages 50-80 who have smoked for at least 20 years. However, only 5.7 percent of eligible Americans were screened for lung cancer before the COVID-19 pandemic—compared to screening rates for breast, cervical and colon cancers that hover between 60 percent and 80 percent. Screening rates have decreased for all cancers due to the pandemic.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States, accounting for almost 25 percent of all cancer deaths. Despite advances in treatment and successful efforts to reduce smoking, the disease kills more than 350 people in the U.S. each day.
If all people who should be screened for lung cancer got screened, tens of thousands of lives and tens of millions of dollars would be saved. Lung cancer is so deadly because it is most often diagnosed at an advanced stage when treatment options are limited and outcomes are poor.
“Screening for early-stage lung cancer is key to saving lives,” said Nasser Hanna, MD, the Tom and Julie Wood Family Foundation Professor of Lung Cancer Clinical Research at IU School of Medicine. Hanna is also a physician-scientist at the IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center and founder and chair of the center’s End Lung Cancer Now initiative. “We can reduce lung cancer mortality by 20 percent right now by maximizing screening CT scans.”
The new call to action also aligns with and supports the national Cancer Moonshot initiative, which aims to reduce cancer deaths by 50 percent over the next 25 years. Lung cancer screening is one easy way to help reach that goal. This call to action provides guidance for national support, including public funding and health policy changes needed to significantly improve lung cancer screening participation.
Two major barriers to screening are coverage and access. While low-dose CT screening for lung cancer is covered by Medicare and most private insurance plans, the pre-authorization process can delay the procedure by several days and place an unnecessary burden on community providers. Additionally, a recent study by the American Cancer Society found that at least 5 percent of those eligible for low-dose CT scans live more than 40 miles from a screening facility — and that percentage jumps to nearly 25 percent for screening-eligible individuals in rural areas.
IU School of Medicine is the largest medical school in the U.S. and is annually ranked among the top medical schools in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. The school offers high-quality medical education, access to leading medical research and rich campus life in nine Indiana cities, including rural and urban locations consistently recognized for livability.