lung cancer study 2012

Yearly Lung Cancer Screening Cost-Effective For Smokers, Study Finds

This month, health news has centered a bit around the cost-effectiveness of frequent screenings, but one particular type (lung cancer tests for long-term smokers) still has the go ahead.

Yearly pap smears were one of the tests experts said might be better if done less frequently, and overall, a panel of nine different medical disciplines convened and recommended fewer screenings overall for patients in the US, citing unnecessary subsequent treatments like invasive biopsies and an unpleasant and needlessly painful side effect of overscreening patients. But in the case of long-term smokers and lung cancer, a study has found there is still a benefit.

The study was authored by two insurance actuaries and a lung cancer specialist, and measured the cost of aggressively screening the 18 million Americans at high risk of lung cancer versus resultant cancer treatment and mortality rates. What the study found is that yearly CT scans for those considered at high-risk would only add a dollar to annual premiums, and survival rates and treatment costs would be vastly impacted by the practice.

The study concludes:

“Assuming current commercial reimbursement rates for treatment, we found that screening would cost about $1 per insured member per month in 2012 dollars. The cost per life-year saved would be below $19,000, an amount that compares favorably with screening for cervical, breast, and colorectal cancers.”

The authors continue:

“Our results suggest that commercial insurers should consider lung cancer screening of high-risk individuals to be high-value coverage and provide it as a benefit to people who are at least fifty years old and have a smoking history of thirty pack-years or more.”

Lung cancer kills more than 150,000 Americans each year. Among those who are diagnosed after symptoms appear, 84% do not survive the first five years. But in patients diagnosed prior to the appearance of symptoms, 90% of those diagnosed with lung cancer are alive after the five-year mark.