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Overlake announces low-dose CT scans for early lung cancer detection

Overlake Hospital Medical Center has launched a lung cancer screening program to identify the disease in its earlier stages and raise five-year survival rates.

The screening program, announced Thursday, uses a low-dose CT scan. Radiation levels are 10 to 30 percent of that used in a full scan, only takes six seconds and costs just under $200 a pop.

Dr. Todd Freudenberger, a specialist in pulmonary medicine and one of Overlake's leading lung cancer experts, said the scans could keep patients from receiving a diagnosis too late.

"The discouraging reality about lung cancer is early stages ... are not easily detected without such screenings," Freudenberger said. "Patients become aware of the disease when symptoms become apparent. Too often, this signals a later, less treatable stage of the disease. We know we can catch this disease earlier with the right screening technology."

Later stages of lung cancer carry poor survival rates. Stage III has a 15 percent five-year survival rate, and Stage IV survival is less than 1 percent.

But Stage I lung cancer has a 60 percent rate that rises to 75 percent with surgery.

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer diagnosed in both genders, and causes more deaths in the United States than breast, colon, pancreas and prostate cancer combined, according to the American Cancer Society.

However, low-dose screening is not covered by Medicare. An advisory panel to Medicare discussed in May whether low-dose CT scans for high-risk patients, such as smokers, should be covered by Medicare.

The panel voted against the coverage at the time, but the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is examining the proposal and has promised an early decision in November.

Approval of Medicare coverage had been recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force in December and, earlier this week, more than 130 congressman from the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to CMS urging the organization to enact Medicare coverage.

"Having Medicare and other insurers cover screening would clearly save lives," Freudenberger said. "Until these payers decide to cover this ... our goal is to keep low-dose CT screening as affordable as possible."

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