Thirty-six percent of US counties with high lung cancer rates are at least a 60-minute drive from lung cancer screening centers, according to a study posted online in the Abstract Issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine

“This is a significant number, especially since disparities in geographic access can mean that travel burden may influence patient utilization and, consequently, lung cancer outcomes,” said first author Soumya J. Niranjan, BPharm, MS, PhD, assistant professor, Department of Health Services Administration at the School of Health Professions, University of Alabama at Birmingham.

The study is the first to define, map and characterize population-based geographic access to lung cancer screening centers. 

The nation has 600 lung cancer Screening Centers of Excellence (SCOE), which offer highly effective low-dose CT scans to individuals who are at high risk of lung cancer, often finding cancer at its earliest stages.  Yet, only 4% of those eligible for screening actually get it. The researchers wanted to better understand this disparity by looking at the geographic accessibility of SCOEs in the counties of the 48 contiguous states and Washington, DC. They did so by correlating drive time to the facilities in order to identify underserved areas, while also looking at lung cancer mortality rates in the affected counties.

“With lung cancer being the leading cause of cancer death in the US, understanding the distribution of screening centers is crucial,” said Dr. Niranjan. “In addition to high rates of lung cancer mortality, our study identified many counties that have high rates of adult smoking with travel times beyond 60 miles.  These underserved areas are primarily in Appalachia and the southeastern United States, regions that have seen consistent exponential increases in lung cancer mortality.”

Dr. Niranjan added, “High-need populations are not currently served by SCOEs. Demonstrating this is the first step toward operationalizing cancer prevention and control plans by not just setting up screening centers, but also ensuring adequate follow up and resolution of findings.”   

  1. Abstract #7265. TITLE:  Distribution and Geographic Accessibility of Lung Cancer Screening Centers in the US.