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CT Scans Covered By Insurance Is 'Best News,' Says Denver Doctor

DENVER (CBS4) - The chest CT scan that smoker Stan Swank received in April may have saved his life, and offered proof that early detection of lung cancer is effective.

Swank smoked for 55 years, one to two packs a day.

He said he never felt sick, never had a cough. But he took part in a study this spring at National Jewish Health in Denver that used a low-dose CT scan. He was diagnosed with stage 1 cancer.

"The rest of his lungs looked pretty good, but there was this abnormality in his left upper lobe," Dr. Debra Dyer, a radiologist with National Jewish, said.

Starting Jan. 1, private insurance companies must cover screenings for high-risk patients 55 and older who smoked a pack a day for 30 years.

The tumor was removed from his lung without chemotherapy or radiation.

Lung cancer is the No. 1 cancer killer of men and woman in the United States. Early detection is critical for survival in lung cancer cases, Dyer said. She said a study of 53,000 high-risk patients found annual scans make sense. There was a 20 percent reduction in lung cancer mortality as a result of using CT scans.

Lung Cancer 1
Stan Swank (credit: CBS)

Swank's diagnosis was timely indeed.

"Stage 1 means it's all curable," Swank said. The stage refers to state the cancer is in when it's first diagnosed. Stage 1 generally means the cancer is localized.

Dyer said the new insurance mandates under the Affordable Care Act were momentous.

"This is the best news we've ever had about lung cancer," Dyer said.

LINK: NJH Lung Cancer Screening CT Program

LINK: Clinical Trial

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