A government panel recently recommended CT scans for long-term smokers to catch lung cancer in the early stages, and the new screening procedure is being offered for just $99 at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis.
HCMC is one of the first hospitals in the country to offer CT scans for lung cancer without a doctor's referral, and results of the screening can be returned in less than an hour.
After all the warnings and education, smoking-related lung cancer still kills 160,000 people every year -- more than breast, colon, and prostate cancer combined. Yet there was no recommended screening, like mammography, until now.
Dr. Gopal Punjabi says only a CT scan -- a series of x-ray images from multiple angles -- can find the tiny tumors. Catching the cancer while it's still in the lungs gives patients a 55 percent survival rate, but that rate drops to less than 5 percent once it has spread outside the lungs.
"The hope is we will catch enough lung cancers early to make a significant dent in that mortality rate," Dr. Punjabi said.
But maybe you've seen headlines, like this one in the New York Times, warning the radiation from CT scans may actually be causing cancer.
Dr. Chip Truwit says the CT scans at HCMC use the newest technology, and just a fraction of the radiation.
But it's not for everyone. The screenings are only for those between 55 and 79 years old, who have been smoking a pack-a-day for 30 years, or two packs a day for 15 years, and who are currently smoking or quit less than 15 years ago.
Those patients are at the highest risk, and greatest benefit for screening.
"If we can actually do it when it can pick up the disease, that's a good expenditure of time energy and money," Dr. Truwit said.
Some 8 million people may be eligible to take this test, and estimates are early detection could save 12,000 lives every single year. If you qualify and would like to take this test, you can go through your doctor or call HCMC directly at 612-873-2065.
The test is $99, which Medicare doesn't cover, but most likely will soon. Other hospitals are expected to offer the screening soon.
HCMC lung screening FAQs: http://bit.ly/LiT9hp