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Lung Cancer in Veterans

Although November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) maintains a year-round, laser-focus on improving lung cancer survival rates. Lung cancer is one of the leading cause of cancer deaths within the population the VA serves. It is well established that Veterans are 25% more likely to develop lung cancer compared to the general population. Factors contributing to this statistical difference include the rate of smoking among Veterans, environmental toxins exposure during their time in the service, and the general demographics of the Veteran population. The VA healthcare system offers a wide range of services related to lung cancer, including screenings to identify the disease in its earliest stages.

Annual lung cancer screening to eligible Veterans is one way the VA strives to reduce the current rate of lung cancer deaths within the system. The VA estimates approximately 1 million Veterans could be eligible for these screenings. Eligibility is based on three qualifying factors: (1) the individual is aged 50 to 80 years, (2) the individual is a current smoker or quit smoking within the past 15 years, and (3) the individual has a smoking history of at least 20 pack-years. Pack-years are an estimate on the number of tobacco product packs that were consumed in the person’s lifetime. The screening is a low-dose CT scan in which VA doctors look for early signs of the disease. The VA has also created rich educational resources related to lung cancer screenings as well as implemented a reminder system for those Veterans eligible for the lung cancer screening process.

The VA’s dedication to providing top-tier lung cancer care falls under the Lung Precision Oncology Program (LPOP), which is a System of Excellence within the VA. As an enterprise-level program, the LPOP employs a hub-and-spoke model of care. Each hub site maintains the highest level of expert knowledge and cutting-edge technology. Spoke sites are located at individual VA Medical Centers throughout the country to ensure Veterans can access services for initial diagnosis as well as treatment. Should an individual require complex or specialized care, the hub site receives the referral and assumes the patient’s care.

The advantage to the LPOP two-tiered structure is the ability to provide the highest level of care regardless of where a Veteran lives. This innovative structure coupled with the early screening program is a testament to the VA's determination to reduce the estimated 5,000 Veteran deaths per year due to lung cancer.


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