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Lung Cancer Screening: Why It’s Crucial and Addressing Barriers to Access

Screening for lung cancer saves lives. It’s a fact.

Getting a pre-emptive CT scan can reduce one’s risk of lung cancer mortality by 20%. The scan is safe, easy, takes just a few minutes and is pain free. The screening can help catch lung cancer before symptoms appear. The earlier a cancer is caught, the more effective treatment is, and patients have better outcomes.

Despite the ease and effectiveness of CT scans, barriers may keep patients from getting screened for lung cancer.

Incomplete or inaccurate medical information can be one issue. Knowing a patient’s smoking history, for example, plays into his or her lung cancer risk. But it’s a metric that’s not always captured accurately. This can make it difficult to determine if a patient is a good candidate for screening. The same issue can arise with other risk factors, too. This is why it’s important for patients to share accurate and complete medical and social history with their health care providers at every visit.

Knowledge about their lung cancer risk and access to services can also keep some patients from being screened. As can language and cultural barriers. I have found this to be true with some of the Asian American patients in my practice. Providers must work with communities and health systems to actively connect with underserved populations and those who have a higher risk based on smoking history or environmental or occupational exposures. Working together, we can reduce screening disparities.

Lack of awareness about lung cancer screening guidelines by providers coupled with lack of knowledge that these screenings are typically covered by insurance are also issues. And most patients don’t know about lung cancer screening or the benefits of catching cancer early, so they aren’t inclined to request a CT scan. The responsibility to ensure more patients are aware of the benefits, options for screening and their coverage is one borne by providers, insurers and policymakers alike.

Lung cancer screening is crucial, and no patient should be subject to unnecessary barriers for life-saving screenings.

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