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Medicare approves lung cancer screening coverage

U-M specialist at forefront of effort to bring lung CT screening to those at high-risk

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have finalized coverage guidelines for lung cancer screening with CT scans for people at high-risk of developing lung cancer. Coverage goes into effect immediately.

“This is a victory for cancer prevention and for the well-being of thousands of Americans at high-risk of lung cancer,” says Ella Kazerooni, M.D., director of cardiothoracic radiology at the University of Michigan Health System. “Lung screening is a life-saving health measure for the No. 1 cause of cancer death in the United States today.”

Kazerooni has been at the forefront of national efforts to urge CMS to approve Medicare coverage. As chair of the Committee on Lung Cancer Screening for the American College of Radiology, Kazerooni worked to forge alliances with major professional and advocacy organizations, culminating in a letter signed by 78 organizations across the country urging lung screening coverage.

The CMS decision stems from the National Lung Screening Trial, a large-scale clinical trial funded by the National Cancer Institute. It found that among 53,000 heavy smokers at high risk of lung cancer, CT screening demonstrated a 20 percent reduction in lung cancer deaths.

CMS, which provides health care benefits to those 65 and older through Medicare, will cover annual lung screenings for people age 55-77 who have smoked at least 30 pack years and are either current smokers or quit within the last 15 years. Patients will need a written order from their doctor for screening and must undergo counseling that emphasizes smoking cessation.

The decision includes requirements for qualifying radiologists and screening facilities to ensure quality and safety. It also creates a lung screening registry. 

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