Managing diseases Featured

7:00pm EDT December 31, 2006

As health care costs and health insurance rates continue to rise, it is imperative to find ways to use your dollars most effectively and efficiently. Promoting a healthy lifestyle is one way to create a more productive work staff. Encouraging regular checkups is another way to keep costs down. When most diseases are detected in their earliest stages they are easier to control and companies retain healthier employees for a longer period of time with less expenditure for treatments.

Early detection, diagnosis, treatment and eventual cure for lung cancer should be at the top of the list for awareness.

“Lung cancer will kill more people this year than breast cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer, liver cancer, kidney cancer and melanoma combined,” says Laurie Fenton, president and CEO of the Lung Cancer Alliance. The disease will kill 160,000 people this year. More than 70 percent are diagnosed at late stages and most will die within months. That is about to change. As reported by the New England Journal of Medicine on Oct. 26, 2006, “a 13-year landmark study found that with CT screening, lung cancer can be detected at the earliest stage (Stage I) in 85 percent of patients and the estimated 10-year survival rate goes to 92 percent for those whose detected cancers are removed immediately.”

“We need to do all we can to get more people, especially at-risk individuals, tested much earlier,” says Fenton.

Smart Business asked Fenton for more thoughts on reducing health care costs and increasing employee productivity.

What can employers do to help with disease management?

Anything that can be done to encourage a healthy lifestyle is going to create a more productive staff. While smoking isn’t the only cause of lung cancer, providing ways to help employees quit will cut health care costs in the long run.

Also, review your insurance coverage. Is CT screening for lung cancer covered? Many policies cover mammograms, PAP smears, colonoscopies and other diagnostic tests that can run into the thousands of dollars. CT chest scans have now dropped below $200 retail, a small price compared with the hundreds of thousands of dollars involved in treating end-stage lung cancer. Offering employees a baseline scan is an added insurance policy for them — as well as the company — that if they are going to have lung cancer (a notoriously slow developing cancer) it will be found at the earliest, most treatable and least costly stage.

Information is key. Let employees know the facts about lung cancer and what you are providing to encourage early detection. Consider including provisions for informing the general public about what can be done to fight disease in your giving back to the community plans.

Isn’t it enough to just discourage smoking by employees and the public?

That is a start but, after smoking, the lungs never go back to normal. Also, smoking is not the only cause of lung cancer. While 35 percent to 40 percent of new lung cancer cases are current smokers, 50 percent are former smokers and 10 percent to 15 percent have never smoked.

Other at-risk individuals include those exposed to second-hand smoke, to radon or asbestos, have a family history of lung cancer, have served in the military or have been diagnosed with other respiratory diseases such as emphysema, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases) or tuberculosis.

Is there anything else that companies can do to fight lung cancer?

More research into diagnosis and treatment is vitally important. The underfunding of lung cancer research, the stigma of smoking which has tarred all patients whether they smoked or not, and the perception that it is a self-inflicted disease ‘unworthy’ of public funding has had tragic consequences.

The billions poured into research and early detection in, for example, breast and prostate cancers, has led to five-year survival rates of 88 percent and 99 percent, respectively. In glaring contrast, the five-year survival rate for lung cancer is still only 15 percent. Mammograms and PSA tests are generally covered benefits and widely promoted. Yet how many women know that lung cancer will kill twice as many of them as breast cancer? How many men even realize that they are three times as likely to die of lung cancer as prostate cancer?

People with lung cancer deserve the same compassion and support as people with any other cancer. We have to get beyond the stigma of tobacco and concentrate on detection, diagnosis, treatment and cure. Public-public partnerships will be crucial to achieving these goals. Until we have cures, our best weapon today is early detection through CT screening, and companies can play a crucial role in making this happen.

LAURIE FENTON is president and CEO of the Lung Cancer Alliance. For more information go to: www.lungcanceralliance.org and www.screenforlungcancer.org.