Traverse City Record-Eagle

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January 8, 2014

Another View: New cancer screening raises issues

A new recommended lung cancer screening for smokers raises health care cost and efficacy issues

Anyone who has experienced the devastation of lung cancer on a friend or family member would likely welcome a new recommendation for a new lung cancer screening that would detect the disease earlier and allow treatment.

Lung cancer is one of the most devastating cancers in terms of its toll on the body of the afflicted. It is also one of the most difficult cancers to detect early enough so treatment is effective. Victims of lung cancer typically must simply live out their remaining days without any hope for treatment, many times in pain.

But a new recommendation from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force raises many difficult questions about how much more spending the health care system can take and whether we open the floodgates for “cancer-screening cowboys” looking for an entrepreneurial opportunity.

The influential task force recommended a new lung cancer screening for long-time heavy smokers. It recommended CT scans of the lungs for those at highest risk of developing lung cancer - those who smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years or the equivalent such as two-packs for 15 years.

The task force recommends that the screening be for such people who are between the ages of 55 and 80.

We clearly want as much prevention as we can get in our health system. The task force estimates some 20,000 of the 160,000 deaths from lung cancer annually in the U.S. could be prevented.

Even as the recommendation came out, the task force was suggesting caveats, like those who wouldn’t be able to endure cancer treatment shouldn’t be selected for screening. But after our politicization in the last few years of so called “death panels” the task force’s recommendation raises lots of questions.

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