The Health Ministry will launch a two-month pilot program offering smokers free lung checkups in hopes early detection of smoking-related illnesses could save the lives of countless Israelis.
The move was inspired by a February 2020 study but the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic shortly after put the issue on the back burner. The service will be available to those whose profile fits the criteria of health funds, which will inform the patients that they are eligible for the check up.
Medical experts are now looking to put theory to practice, and test out the new exam which could detect early signs of lung cancer - one of the world's deadliest types of cancer throughout the last few years.
"This is a CT scan, but with very little radiation," explained Prof. Amir Onn, adding that the amount of radiation is not dangerous.
"This is a screening test that is conducted on healthy people but only for smokers. Studies in the United States have shown a 20% decrease in mortality rate amongst those that conducted the exam. In Europe, the figure was above 30%. People go through this exam, and if something is discovered, begin to treat it immediately and save their lives."
Data shows that an average of five Israelis die from lung cancer daily, and over 2,600 people are diagnosed with it every year - 85% of them being smokers.
Those eligible for this new exam are Israelis aged 50-79 that have been smokers within the last 15 years, or still smoke.
According to the Health Ministry's predictions, about 70% of those who undergo the screening will receive a negative result and be called back for a second exam. About 20% will receive an uncertain result and be asked to redo the screening. Some 10% will receive positive results and also be required to do another exam to validate the results before pursuing further treatment.
If indeed a patient is diagnosed through the exam with lung cancer, in most cases it will still be an early stage and the treatment will call for surgery or radiation.
Throughout the last two months, since the ministry launched the trial period, healthcare provider Meuhedet has conducted about 100 screenings, through which two cases of lung cancer were uncovered.
The flaws with this proactive procedure so far are mostly related to the CT scan's readings. Given the patients are smokers, many of them have scars on their lung tissue that resemble initial cancerous lumps.
Furthermore, many smokers prefer to live in denial and avoid getting tested. Amongst those that show readiness to get examined, many will translate negative results as justification to continue smoking, thus deteriorating their health even more.
"Nonetheless, this is a breakthrough," said Prof. Onn. "I think that every smoker needs to undergo this screening. It turns out that it could detect not just cancerous lungs but also other diseases."