SPRINGFIELD – Baystate Medical Center has been named a Lung Cancer Screening Center of Excellence by the Lung Cancer Alliance, a designation that means it has agreed to follow specific guidelines and best practices to ensure the highest quality of screening and follow-up care.
The designation comes as a new American Cancer Society study notes that, for the first time, lung cancer is now the leading cause of cancer death in females in developed countries over breast cancer.
The good news is that Baystate and other centers of excellence with have tools at their disposal to catch the disease early and fight it. On Feb. 5, Medicare announced it will cover lung cancer screening for people at the highest risk – potentially saving tens of thousands of lives.
"We applaud the Medicare coverage decision on lung cancer screening and are pleased that the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recognizes the value of this lifesaving work. Their coverage decision will ensure that many more high risk patients will have access to screening,” said Dr. Gary Hochheiser, chief, Thoracic Surgery at Baystate Medical Center.
Baystate is one of 250 such Centers of Excellence in the U.S., and the only one in western Massachusetts.
“Medicare coverage of CT lung cancer screening will help screening programs nationwide (such as Baystate Medical Center) save lives. If older current and former smokers and their doctors decide that screening is warranted, patients should seek out an ACR lung cancer screening center. Together, we will complete the first major blow against lung cancer,” said Dr. Ella Kazerooni, FACR, chair of the American College of Radiology Lung Cancer Screening Committee and American College of Radiology Thoracic Imaging Panel.
CMS will cover the exam for individuals age 55-77 years who are heavy smokers with a 30 pack-year smoking history and who currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years (one pack-year = smoking one pack per day for one year; 1 pack = 20 cigarettes).
The Baystate thoracic surgeon noted that the Affordable Care Act requires new insurance plans from private insurers to cover – with no cost to beneficiaries – any preventive health screenings recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, such as lung cancer screening.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends yearly lung cancer screening with low-dose computed tomography for those with a history of heavy smoking and who smoke now or have quit within the past 15 years.
The CMS coverage decision is the last major piece in a long series of validations reaffirming the lifesaving benefits of lung cancer screening. Lung cancer screening was scientifically proven in 2010 by one of the largest randomized controlled trials in the history of the National Cancer Institute (NCI). NCI’s National Lung Screening Trial (NLST) confirmed that screening can reduce overall death from lung cancer – which is currently the number one cancer killer in the U.S. by at least 20 percent.
“Lung cancer claims about 160,000 lives each year. That’s more than breast, prostate, colorectal and pancreatic cancers combined. Despite those telling statistics, until now there have been no recommendations for screening. If lung cancer can be detected as early as Stage I, there is a good chance of a cure with treatment,” said Dr. Hochheiser.
The decision by CMS is in tandem with recommendations submitted to them last September by a coalition led by the Lung Cancer Alliance (LCA), American College of Radiology (ACR) and the Society of Thoracic Surgeons, as well as nearly 100 other professional societies, public health organizations, hospitals such as Baystate Medical Center, and various patient groups.
Risk factors for lung cancer include smoking – people who smoke cigarettes are 15 to 30 times more likely to get lung cancer or die from lung cancer than people who do not smoke – secondhand smoke from other people’s cigarettes, pipes, or cigars, as well as various environmental factors such as radon, asbestos, and other substances.
“You can dramatically reduce your risk factors by being proactive and never smoke or quitting right now if you do smoke. Also, declare your own home and car smoke-free and avoid secondhand smoke in other areas. And, be sure to have your home tested for radon,” said Dr. Hochheiser.
For more information on Baystate Medical Center, visit baystatehealth.org/bmc.