The Reading Room

The case for lung cancer screening

by Manasi Kapoor

When the National Lung Screening Trial (NLST) released results three years back, it was immediately clear that lung cancer screening could save lives. We learned that annual low-dose CT scans for patients at high risk for lung cancer could reduce mortality by 20%—a very exciting development in the management of the deadliest form of cancer.

But did you know that the benefits run even deeper? There are actually four big reasons the number of lung screening programs has increased more than 300% since 2011.

1. Lung cancer screening improves patient outcomes

Lung cancer is most often diagnosed after it has spread, and as a result, survival rates are very low. Screening is our single-best opportunity to change that paradigm. According to an analysis of the NLST data conducted by the actuarial firm Milliman, screening all high-risk patients would lead to a 430% increase in patients diagnosed at early stages, and a 93% decrease in patients diagnosed at late stages.

2. Lung cancer screening can lead to cost savings

At the same time, it’s an opportunity to significantly cut costs to our health care system. Medical expenditures on cancer care will total almost $158 billion in 2020, and 20% of that spending is attributable to lung cancer care. By diagnosing more patients at an earlier stage, we have the potential to reduce spending by as much as 44%.

3. Lung cancer screening compares favorably to other types of cancer screening

To put this into context, Milliman conducted an analysis comparing the cost effectiveness of various screening exams. The analysis estimated that, assuming all high-risk patients undergo screening, lung cancer screening cost effectiveness falls around $11,000-$26,000 per life-year saved. Additionally, compared with other cancer screenings, such as mammography, lung cancer screening is significantly more cost effective.

4. Screening can lead to program growth

Improving patient outcomes is the primary reason to invest in lung cancer screening, but there’s also a business opportunity. Screenings lead to suspicious findings, which generate the need for follow-up testing and, in the event of diagnosis, treatments.

Consequently, a well-designed cancer screening program that retains patients across the continuum is one strategy for growing lung cancer patient volumes. Screening programs also can provide a new entry point to your health system and can help attract patients who have no previous relationship with your institution.

Coming up: Introducing the Lung Cancer Screening Toolkit

Making the case for lung cancer screening to your stakeholders? Download our ready-to-use physician, patient, and employer marketing materials, just a few of the many resources in our Lung Cancer Screening Program Toolkit. Learn about these materials and more at our webconference on Wednesday, November 19th.