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Why 5 million seniors can breathe easier

Medicare decision to provide free annual CT screening for seniors with high risk of lung cancer could save 13,000 lives each year

Albert A. Rizzo // MD, FACP, FCCP, D'ABSM // April 10, 2015

We are experiencing a historic moment in the battle against lung cancer – currently America’s number-one cancer killer – as people at high risk now have no-cost coverage for effective screening.

This annual low-dose CT screening is recommended for people who are at high risk for lung cancer, and studies show that it can reduce the number of deaths from lung cancer in both current and former heavy smokers between ages 55 to 80 by up to 14 percent.

On February 5, 2015, Medicare announced it would bring the benefit of screening to approximately 5 million American seniors. Together with an earlier decision that requires most private insurance plans to cover screening for high-risk individuals, now is the time to talk to your physician about getting screened.

The high-risk population includes current smokers and those that quit within the past 15 years who have smoked 30-pack years (one pack a day for 30 years, two packs a day for 15 years, and so on) and are at least 55 years old. If you are on Medicare, the coverage is through age 77, and for private insurance, it is through age 80.

Earlier diagnosis

With access to screening, more people will be diagnosed at an earlier stage when it is most curable. If half of everyone at high risk was screened, it is estimated that we could save over 13,000 lives each year. It is important to discuss with your doctor the benefits and risks of screening. Remember, screening is not a substitute for quitting smoking and it is never too late to quit.

Access to screening is a game changer for the high-risk population. But we know that more investment in research is needed to find better ways to diagnose, treat and cure lung cancer. We need to find effective early detection tools for people who are not in this high-risk population. Growing investments in precision medicine to develop targeted therapies hopefully will lead to new cures.

And prevention is also key. Reducing exposures to radon, air pollution and tobacco smoke can help reduce the risk of lung cancer. And if you smoke, the best way to prevent lung cancer is to quit.

This is truly a transformative moment. Screening and early detection can change the narrative about lung cancer from America’s number-one cancer killer, to a treatable disease. Learn more about your risk and screening options at

About the American Lung Association

The American Lung Association is the leading organization working to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease, through research, education and advocacy. The work of the American Lung Association is focused on four strategic imperatives: to defeat lung cancer; to improve the air we breathe; to reduce the burden of lung disease on individuals and their families; and to eliminate tobacco use and tobacco-related diseases. For more information about the American Lung Association, a holder of the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Guide Seal, or to support the work it does, call
1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872) or visit:

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