A Stunning Statistic! Maybe Defensive Medicine Is Worth Another Look.


Maybe defensive medicine is worth a second look.

Check out this amazing statistic from a recent study by the National Cancer Institute: If half of the USA’s 36 million current and former smokers ages 50 to 74 were to get annual CT screenings until age 75, the screenings could be expected to prevent 380,000 deaths from lung cancer.

For people at high risk of lung cancer (everyone in the study had smoked the equivalent of one pack pe day for 30 years), the benefits of screening outweigh the benefits. Screening for lung cancer with CT scans reduced lung cancer deaths by 20% during the eight year study, and cut overall deaths by 7%.

Why does lung cancer screening save lives? CT scans can find tumors when they’re small and still confined to the part of the lung where they originated. When the tumor is confined to the lung and has not spread (metastasized), lung cancer is potentially curable. In this early stage of lung cancer, it is rare that lung cancer victims have symptoms. Usually, lung cancer victims become symptomatic only after the cancer cells have spread outside the lung and at that point, lung cancer is usually incurable. The most common symptom of lung cancer is hemoptysis (coughing up blood).

The question raised by this groundbreaking $250 million study is whether lung cancer screening of high risk persons should be covered by insurance. The answer from the nation’s health insurers is a resounding “NO”. Insurance plans do not cover the $300 cost of a screening with a CT scan for lung cancer. Insurance plans will pay for diagnostic CT scans,which are used when patients already have other signs of lung cancer, such as hemoptysis.

Is this refusal to pay for CT screening of persons at high risk for lung cancer short-sighted? You bet it is. Hospitals will pay between $100,000 to $150,000 for a hospitalization lasting four to six weeks for patients in the final stages of lung cancer and guess who picks up that bill? The health insurance companies. Does it make sense (and by the way save an estimated 360,000 lives) for the insurance companies to pick up tthe tab for a $300 CT screening for patients at high risk for lung cancer? What do you think?