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Finally Medicare Agrees To Pay For Smokers' Lung Cancer Screening

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Medicare revealed on Thursday, Feb. 5, that it will be paying for the lung cancer screening of individuals with the highest risk, a move that could potentially save many lives, advocates claim.

Medicare will pay for low-dose computed tomography (CT) lung cancer screening for individuals between 55 and 77 years old who currently smoke or have stopped the habit within the last 15 years. Coverage will also be provided to those who smoke an average of one pack of cigarettes per day for 30 years and those who have a written order from a physician.

Lung cancer is responsible for the deaths of over 150,000 Americans per year, making it the deadliest cancer in the U.S. About 85 percent of these cases are blamed on smoking. Lung cancer is very deadly. Individuals with the condition do not show any symptoms until it is too late.

The National Cancer Institute says that patients, whose cancer is caught early, survive between 16 to 24 months on average compared with only six months to one year in those whose condition is detected at an advanced stage.

"Screening coverage will help save thousands of seniors each year from the nation's leading cancer killer. Screening programs can also help lower smoking rates," said Lung Cancer Alliance (LCA) president Laurie Fenton Ambrose. "The process may even lead to better understanding of addiction as well as lung cancer in those who have never smoked."

Heavy smokers who are at least 55 years old are advised to have a yearly CT scan in order to check for the presence of lung cancer. Experts say that the screening test amounting to $250 to $300 may be able to prevent as many as 20 percent of deaths caused by lung cancer, making it comparable to mammograms and colonoscopies, which are also hailed as potential life savers in other forms of cancer.

CMS chief medical officer Patrick Conway said that the decision for Medicare to provide coverage for lung cancer screening is an important Medicare preventive benefit given the high incidence of lung cancer.

A 2014 study has projected that Medicare footing the lung cancer screening would cost it $9 billion over a period of five years, which is equivalent to about $3 per month for each beneficiary.

"Now, we can save tens of thousands of people each year from this terrible disease that now kills more women in wealthy countries than breast cancer," said Douglas Wood, former president of The Society of Thoracic Surgeons.

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