The American Cancer society estimates that almost 150,000 people will die from lung cancer this year. Smokers are often considered at a high risk for lung cancer. According to the CDC, a higher percentage of veterans smoke than non-veterans. So, it follows that a higher percentage of veterans are at risk of lung cancer. However, early detection of lung cancer can increase the chances of survival. In the past decade or so, one method of lung cancer screening has become a recommendation.
After a study conducted in the early 2000's, The United States Preventative Task Force (the USPTF) made a recommendation for a particular type of screening for lung cancer. The recommendation is that certain "high risk" smokers get a specific type of annual screening called a low dose Computed Tomography (or CT) scan. The study showed that annual screening of “high risk” smokers could reduce their mortality rate by quite a bit. The CDC now also recommends this screening. Several medical organizations (such as the American College of Chest Physicians, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, the American Association of Family Physicians, the American Thoracic Society, the American Cancer Society, and others) also recommend this particular screening.
How Do You Know If You Should Get This Screening?
According to the USPTF, "high risk" smokers without symptoms should get an annual low dose CT scan.
The USPTF defines "high risk" as:
You currently smoke or you quit within the past 15 years
You are between 55 and 80 years old
You are considered a "heavy" smoker (“heavy” is defined has as having smoked 30 "pack-years," which is the equivalent of smoking a pack a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years).
However, other organizations have defined "high risk" in slightly different ways, or have slightly different recommendations. For example, the American College of Chest Physicians limits the age to 77, instead of 80.
To determine whether or not you should consider this screening, click the following link: https://shouldiscreen.com/English/home
In any case, if you believe you are a “high risk” smoker, you should talk to your doctor.
What if My VA VA Doctor Does Not Offer me Low Dose CT lung cancer screening?
The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) recommends that “high risk” smokers get low dose CT scans annually. So, if you fit into the category of a "high risk" smoker according to the criteria of the USPTF above, your VA care provider should offer this screening to you. Even though VA has claimed, as recently as 2017, that launching VA's nationwide lung cancer screening program is a “challenge,” the VHA does recommend it and your VA care provider should at least be able to have a discussion with you about this potentially life-saving test.
Is it medical malpractice if your VA care provider does not offer you an annual Low Dose CT? The lawyer’s favorite answer to any question is, “it depends,” and a blog post is certainly not the best way to determine whether or not you have a case. There are a variety of factors that go into whether or not any medical malpractice claim can be brought or will be successful. Additionally, the recommendation for annual low dose CT scans is still relatively new, and not every smoker should have them. However, if you were an asymptomatic, "high risk" smoker, and you develop lung cancer, but your VA care providers never offered you low dose CT scans, you may want to contact an attorney experienced in bringing claims against VA medical care providers under the Federal Torts Claims Act.