A nationwide rollout of the early detection and prevention program would target Australia’s biggest cancer killer.
Smokers and ex-smokers between 50 and 70 may soon be offered lung cancer testing, after a proposal for a national screening program received support from the Medical Services Advisory Committee (MSAC).
If the government greenlights the program, people in that age group with a significant history of smoking – at least 30 pack-years or having quit within the previous decade – will be eligible for two-yearly low-dose CT scans.
An MSAC report this week found the scheme would enable the earlier identification of lung cancer in high-risk individuals. The ultimate objective is to improve the five-year survival rate, which is currently only 20%.
Candidates would be assessed by a risk prediction tool to determine their suitability before being offered screening.
In 2020, Cancer Australia published a report outlining the prospects and delivery of a national screening program, saying “lung cancer screening programs appear to be most clinically effective and cost-effective when targeted to high-risk individuals”.
They noted that low dose computed tomography screening was associated with a larger proportion of lung cancers being diagnosed at an earlier stage compared to control groups, with 20% overall reduction in lung cancer specific mortality.
The inquiry was commissioned by then-health minister Greg Hunt to understand the feasibility of a screening program and its value to Australia.
“It is estimated that in the first 10 years of a lung cancer screening program in Australia, over 70% of all screen-detected lung cancers would be diagnosed at an early stage, over 12,000 deaths would be prevented and up to 50,000 quality adjusted life years would be gained,” Cancer Australia CEO Professor Dorothy Keefe wrote in the report.
Lung cancer is often diagnosed too late, limiting treatment options and decreasing the overall likelihood of patient survival.
The Lung Foundation welcomed the announcement and urged the government to fast-track a budget investment to bring lung cancer prevention in line with other priority diseases, including bowel, cervical and breast cancers.
“Lung Foundation Australia commends the federal government on their commitment to reducing iniquities and ensuring improved health outcomes for all Australians,” CEO Mark Brooke said in a statement.
“To ensure this MSAC recommendation becomes a reality, Lung Foundation Australia are calling on the government to invest as a matter of urgency in a targeted lung cancer screening program in the upcoming budget.”
Federal Health Minister Mark Butler has yet to confirm the funding, although it is uncommon for MSAC recommendations to be declined.
“I thank Cancer Australia for its work to date on a national lung cancer screening program,” Mr Butler said in a statement. “MSAC has carefully considered the details of this application which I am grateful for. The Albanese government will consider the advice and respond in due course.”