With the recent draft decision by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) to cover 100 percent of costs for annual lung cancer screenings for patients age 55 to 74 with a 30-year smoking history, Keck Medicine of the University of Southern California’s (USC) Multidisciplinary Lung Cancer program supports the move to increase awareness, prevention and treatment of the disease.

The proposal from CMS is now open for a 90-day public commentary period with a final decision expected in early February. The decision potentially expands options for detecting and combating lung cancer for seniors. According to the American Lung Association, lung cancer will account for nearly 160,000 deaths in 2014, more than deaths from breast, prostate and colon cancers combined.

“As Americans live longer and require more medical services, coverage from Medicare is essential to their well-being,” said Tom Jackiewicz, senior vice president and CEO for USC Health. “We applaud Medicare for such a proactive approach with this draft decision to preventing and detecting lung cancer, one of the most challenging cancer diagnoses.”

Since 2013, the Keck Medicine of USC program has offered low-dose CT (LDCT) scans of the chest for lung cancer screening at a reduced cost of $99. Keck Medicine of USC’s Multidisciplinary Lung Cancer program brings together a comprehensive team of specialists in a personalized environment, and with its LDCT program, has established itself as being on the cutting edge of lung cancer treatment.

“Our program has led the way in affordable, proactive lung cancer screening,” said Jeffrey Hagen, M.D., chief, Division of Thoracic Surgery, Keck Medicine of USC. “Although there’s been a long-standing stigma about lung cancer and smoking, the disease has increased among non-smokers, especially women. Early intervention can save lives.”

The current Medicare proposal calls for covering LDCT screening for men and women between the ages of 55 and 74 who are asymptomatic (no signs or symptoms of lung disease), have smoked an equivalent of one pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years, current and former smokers who have quit within 15 years, and others who have significant lung disease, exposure to certain toxins or radiation, or a family history of lung cancer.

The 2014 proposal follows a recommendation in December 2013 by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force that adults between ages 55 and 80 with a 30 pack-year smoking history and who currently smoke or have quit in the last 15 years undergo annual LDCT screening for lung cancer.

Keck Medicine of USC’s Multidisciplinary Lung Cancer Program provides comprehensive follow-up care to patients, bringing together specialists in chest radiology, thoracic surgery, pulmonary medicine and oncology to review each patient’s history, risk factors and LDCT findings, and provide the patient and his/her primary physician with their recommendations. The program includes an experienced lung cancer nurse navigator who helps patients from the initial phone call to the first appointment and through their follow-up visits to maintain continuity of care at USC.

Keck Medicine of USC’s lung cancer leadership includes becoming the first worldwide training center for Da Vinci Xi robotic-assisted thoracic surgery in August 2014, and being the first in Southern California to perform lung cancer surgery with the FDA-approved robotic system, which gives surgeons greater dexterity and precision in removing cancerous tissue from the abdomen and chest. The surgery often requires smaller incisions, leading to less pain and faster healing times for patients. Hagen and thoracic surgeon Daniel Oh, M.D., head the center.

To schedule an LDCT scanning, call (323) 680-3534 or email lungcancer@med.usc.edu.

By Leslie Ridgeway