August 18, 2011


Critics slam low-cost CT scans for smokers as marketing ploy (Phil Galewitz, 8/16/11, Kaiser Health News)

Hospitals have marked down the CT scan - which typically costs as much as $1,000 -to help cash-paying customers. The test is not covered by Medicare or private insurers. Neither the American Cancer Society nor the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent panel of medical experts that examines the effectiveness of preventive tests, has recommended the screening, although both groups are studying the issue.

"You have to ask the question whose interests are being served here," Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, a Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice researcher who studies cancer screening. "Screening tests are a great way to recruit new patients that produce revenues with follow up biopsies and procedures."

Welch and other experts worry that hospitals pushing the low-cost CT scans will focus on promoting the benefits of the lung cancer study to patients rather than warn about its costs and complications.

The biggest risk of the test is the possibility of false positives -- a scan that finds an abnormality in the lung that turns out not to be cancer. Nearly one in four people in the national study had a false positive from the CT scans, which often can lead to a biopsy or other invasive procedures that carry their own health risks. Another concern is added radiation exposure from scans.

In addition, there are economic considerations: The results of the study suggest that more than 300 heavy smokers will need to be screened to prevent just one death from lung cancer over a five-year period.

Dr. Peter Bach, a researcher at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York who evaluates testing for the cancer society, said the hospitals offering the low-cost CT scans may be unfairly inducing patients to have a test they don't need.

Posted by at August 18, 2011 7:34 AM

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