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Cancer can be a frightening word.  Most of us know at least one person who has been afflicted by some form of the disease.  According to some sources, the three most common forms of cancer (breast, prostate, and lung) will total about 750,000 new cases this year.  Of those three, lung cancer is expected to claim the most lives by a huge margin, with nearly 160,000 estimated deaths.

Progress Being Made, Room for Improvement

Smoking is the biggest risk factor for developing lung cancer.  The percentage of active smokers in the general population has steadily decreased since the 1950s, due in large part to aggressive anti-smoking campaigns.  In spite of this, the total number of deaths continues to rise by a small amount each year.

Early Detection and Treatment

Generally speaking, the prognosis for lung cancer is poor.  The overall 5-year survival rate is around 16% for all types and stages.  Late-stage detection is particularly bad, with survival rates in the single digits and life expectancies measured in months, not years.  However, early detection can help drastically.  For certain types of lung cancer, stage-I detection can result in a 60%-70% 5-year survival rate.

In Grand Rapids, Michigan, a local hospital began offering inexpensive CT scans for smokers in 2013.  The $99 test was administered to over 500 patients, and 13 instances of lung cancer were detected, including 9 early-stage cases.  As more hospitals nationwide begin offering similar programs and federal agencies recommend similar guidelines, government and private insurers may begin paying for the tests, leading to higher participation.

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