CT Lung Cancer Screening Guidelines could detect 54,900 more lung cancer cases during a 5 year period if covered by Medicare. Most cancers would be diagnosed at an earlier more treatable stage. In fact, the number of early stage cancer diagnoses would double from 15% to 33%, while the number of patients diagnosed with advanced cancers would decrease from 57% to 40%. Seventeen percent (17%) fewer patients died from lung cancer in the screening group compared with the non-screening group. Medscape Medical News reported that Joshua A. Roth, PhD, MHA told attendees at the 2014 Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology of these cost estimates. However, Medicare has yet to decide whether or not to cover the new screening guidelines from the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF)
The reason for hesitation appears to be the estimated cost of implementing the CT lung cancer screening guidelines. This cost is estimated to be $9.3 billion dollars over a 5 year period. If screening tests are covered, an estimated 11.2 million more tests will be ordered. The cost of these additional scans is estimated at $5.6 billion. Other costs necessary to treat the increased number of diagnosed cancers will increase by $3.7 billion.
As far as physicians are concerned, the cost is secondary, and the primary issue is about saving lives. The new guidelines save lives but not money. Delayed diagnosis of cancer causes devastating injury. However, the indecision by Medicare about coverage for the testing will prevent many patients from being diagnosed with early lung cancer at an earlier, more curable stage.