CT Scanners

Is There Hope for CT Lung Screening?

Lung scan image

New data on CT lung cancer screening rates offer a good news/bad news story. The bad news is that only 21.2% of eligible individuals in four US states got screened, far lower than other exams like breast or colon screening.

The good news is that, as low as the rate was relative to other tests, 21.2% is still much higher than previous estimates. And the study itself found that the rate of CT lung screening has risen over 8 percentage points in 3 years. 

Compliance has lagged with CT lung screening ever since Medicare approved payments for the exam in 2015. A recent JACR study found that screening rates were low for eligible people for both Medicare and commercial insurance (3.4% and 1.8%).

Why is screening compliance so low? Explanations have ranged from fatalism among people who smoke to reimbursement requirements for “shared decision-making,” which unlike other screening exams require patients and providers to discuss CT lung screening before an exam can be ordered.

In this new study in JAMA Network Open, researchers examined screening rates in four states – Maine, Michigan, New Jersey, and Rhode Island – from January 2021 to January 2022. The study drew data from the National Health Interview Survey and weighted it to reflect the population of the US of individuals eligible for CT lung screening, based on the criteria of ages 55-79, 30-pack-year smoking history, and having smoked or quit within the past 15 years. Major findings included: 

  • The rate for CT lung cancer screening was 21.2%, up from 12.8% in 2019
  • People with a primary health professional (PHP) were nearly 6 times more likely to get screened (OR=5.62)
  • The age sweet spot for screening was 65-77, with lower odds for those 55-64 (OR=0.43) and 78-79 (OR=0.17)
  • Rates varied between states, with Rhode Island having the highest rate (30.3%) and New Jersey the lowest (17.5%).
  • Of those who got screened, 27.7% were in poor health and 4.5% had no health insurance

The Takeaway

The findings offer some hope for CT lung screening, as the compliance rate is among the highest we’ve seen among recent research studies. On the other hand, many of those screened were in such poor health they might not benefit from treatment. The high rate of compliance in people with PHPs indicates that promoting screening with these providers could pay off, especially given the requirement for shared decision-making. 

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