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If You Smoke, a Lung Scan May Save Your Life

By Candy Sagon

If you are age 55 to 80 and either a current or former heavy smoker, getting an annual lung CT scan could cut your risk of death from the nation’s leading cancer killer, according to final guidelines issued this week by a federally appointed panel of experts.

Lung cancer kills 160,000 Americans a year, more than the total number of deaths from breast, prostate and colon cancer combined. Catching the cancer early by detecting it on a CT scan could save as many as 20,000 lives annually, task force vice chairman Michael LeFevre, M.D., a University of Missouri family physician, told the Associated Press.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which proposed the guidelines back in July, published the final version in the Annals of Internal Medicine. This clears the way for insurers and Medicare to begin paying for the scans a year from now. The scans cost between $300 and $500, according to the American Lung Association.

Not every smoker qualifies for screening. The guidelines specify only those at highest risk: Heavy smokers who have smoked a pack a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15, or former heavy smokers who have quit within the past 15 years.

Why only older heavy smokers? Because medical evidence shows that screening this high-risk group can save lives by detecting the cancer early, outweighing the potential harms of over-diagnosis, Reuters reported.

Under the Obama administration’s health care law, the screenings are supposed to be covered with no co-pays, although insurance plans have a year to adopt the new recommendations.

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