Screening for Lung Cancer: To Be or Not To Be Covered by Medicare?

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Abstract

The National Lung Cancer Screening Trial (NLST) found a reduction in lung cancer mortality in high-risk patients aged 55 to 74 who were screened with low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) rather than chest x-ray. This reduction was 20% after 6.5 years and 16% after 7.5 years, with a 6.7% reduction in all-cause mortality after 6.5 years. The US Preventive Services Task Force recommended LDCT screening for people aged 55 to 80 who currently smoke or had quit within the last 15 years and who have a history of at least 30 pack-years of smoking. Advocates are urging Medicare to cover the cost of screening for that same targeted population, but the Medicare Evidence Development and Coverage Advisory Committee recommended against coverage, expressing their lack of confidence that the benefits would outweigh the risks for the Medicare patients likely to be screened. Data that support and refute the advocacy position regarding Medicare coverage for LDCT screening are presented. The likely benefits and risks for Medicare patients are discussed in the context of NLST data, other research findings, comparisons between NLST patients and Medicare patients of the same age and smoking histories, and Medicare policies.

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