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KU Cancer Center partners with nation’s top cancer organizations to call for increasing lung cancer screening nationwide

National call to action encourages use of low-dose CT to combat the leading cause of cancer in the United States

Physician reviews CT scan of lungs
Greater use of low-dose CT scans could aid with early detection of lung cancer, which accounts for more deaths than colon, breast and prostate cancers combined.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States, accounting for almost 25% of all deaths from cancer. Despite advances in treatment and successful efforts to reduce smoking, the disease kills more than 350 people in the U.S. each day — but it doesn’t have to be this way.

If all people who should be screened for lung cancer got screened, tens of thousands of lives would be saved, along with tens of millions of dollars. Lung cancer is so deadly because it is most often diagnosed at an advanced stage when treatment options are limited, and outcomes are poor.

The University of Kansas Cancer Center has partnered with more than 50 cancer organizations to issue a call to action urging individuals, providers and insurers to increase access to and use of low-dose computed tomography (CT) scans for those at high risk for lung cancer.

“More people die of lung cancer each year than of colon, breast and prostate cancers combined,” said Roy Jensen, M.D., vice chancellor and director of the KU Cancer Center. “Low-dose CT scans are a quick and non-invasive approach to screen for lung cancer and save thousands of lives.”

Jensen notes that as the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center in the region, it is the KU Cancer Center’s duty to help those who are at increased risk of developing or dying from cancer. More than 1,300 Kansans will die of lung cancer this year.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends annual screening for people ages 50-80 who have smoked for at least 20 years. However, only 5.7% of eligible Americans were screened for lung cancer before the COVID-19 pandemic — compared to screening rates for breast, cervical and colon cancers that hover between 60% and 80%. And screening rates have decreased for all cancers due to the pandemic.

"More people die of lung cancer each year than of colon, breast and prostate cancers combined. Low-dose CT scans are a quick and non-invasive approach to screen for lung cancer and save thousands of lives."

“Early detection is key to reducing lung cancer deaths. We estimate as many as 60,000 lives could be saved each year if the 14.5 million Americans who are eligible received annual lung cancer screening. This would allow us to catch the disease early when curative treatment options are available,” said Jhanelle E. Gray, M.D., statement co-author and department chair and program leader of Thoracic Oncology at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida.

The new effort also aligns with and supports the national Cancer Moonshot initiative, which aims to reduce cancer deaths by 50% over the next 25 years. Lung cancer screening is one easy way to help reach that goal. This call to action provides guidance for national support, including public funding and health policy changes needed to significantly improve lung cancer screening participation.

“We have identified the barriers to lung cancer screening. Now, we need everyone to come together to overcome them. We need a national education and awareness campaign — not just to reach individuals who are eligible for screenings, but also the providers and health educators who should be recommending them,” said Mary Reid, Ph.D., MSPH, statement co-author and chief of Cancer Screening and Survivorship at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo, New York.

Two major barriers to screening are coverage and access. While low-dose CT screening for lung cancer is covered by Medicare and most private insurance plans, the pre-authorization process can delay the procedure by several days and place an unnecessary burden on community providers. Additionally, a recent study by the American Cancer Society found that at least 5% of those eligible for low-dose CT scans live more than 40 miles from a screening facility — and that percentage jumps to nearly 25% for screening-eligible individuals in rural areas.

More than 50 different cancer organizations, including the KU Cancer Center, have issued this call to action.

“Together, we have an unprecedented opportunity to drive down cancer deaths by taking advantage of a tool that is effective, noninvasive and inexpensive We urge people to talk to their physicians about lung cancer screening or to take advantage of resources, such as the

American Lung Association’s screening eligibility quiz or GO2 Foundation for Lung Cancer state-by-state screening center directory,” Jensen said.

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