AUSTIN (KXAN) — A new report from the American Lung Association showed that only 5.8% of eligible people are getting crucial lung cancer screenings. The researchers said the number of those accessing screens is “critically low.”
Health experts recommend eligible adults talk to their doctor about a screen if they are between the ages of 50 and 80, have smoked at one point a pack of cigarettes a day for 20 years or two packs a day for ten years and are currently smoking or quit smoking in the last 15 years. The report said that over 14 million Americans meet these criteria.
“Lung cancer is the No. 1 killer in regards to cancer in the U.S.,” said Dr. Matthew Anderson, a pulmonologist with St. David’s North Austin Medical Center.
Lung cancer screenings have come a long way in recent years, Anderson said. Previously, doctors could only detect this cancer in later stages, when it would be more often incurable. Now, doctors catch it in earlier stages, when there is a higher likelihood of remission.
The American Lung Association reports that lung cancer has a low five-year survival rate – meaning the number of people still alive five years after diagnosis – because it is caught in late stages. The national average of people still living five years after diagnosis in the U.S. is 25%.
Because of advances, the five-year survival rate increased from only 21% in 2014 to 25% in 2018. Further, lung cancer screening with annual low-dose CT scans for those at high risk can reduce the lung cancer death rate by up to 20%, the ALA report cited.
If people are eligible, it is exceedingly important to see a pulmonologist, Anderson said. If someone is in that high-risk category for lung cancer, the screen is covered completely by insurance.
When asked why he thought the screening rates were so low, he said there may be a lack of education but also some folks might feel responsible to some extent for their illness and do not seek out help because of that
“People like myself got involved in this job to take care of people,” he said. “In pulmonary medicine, the majority of our patients, you know, either smoke or have smoked. Those are the people we want to take care of. We want to get you screened and keep you alive.”