The New Wave of Medical Tests That Could Save Your Life
We've all heard the scary stories. Someone in his 40s, seemingly in perfect health, suddenly drops dead during his morning run. Or someone we love discovers too late that she has cancer that's already beyond treatment. And we wonder: Is there anything we can do to make sure this doesn't happen to us? Yes, there is. Here, five medical tests designed to catch killers like cancer and heart disease before they can do deadly damage.
1. Early CDT-lung test for lung cancer
What it does: Measures autoantibodies the immune system produces in response to lung cancer proteins, known as antigens. These autoantibodies show up early in the cancer process, which gives this test the advantage of being able to detect lung cancer before symptoms appear.
Why it's important: With an accuracy of greater than 90 percent, this brand-new test is a significant tool for assessing lung cancer risk at an early stage, says pulmonologist Keith Kelly of Paducah, Kentucky, who offers the test to his patients. Lung cancer kills more than 160,000 people a year in the U.S. -- and the reason it's so deadly is that it's rarely caught early, when tumors are operable. Currently lung cancer still has only a 16 percent five-year survival rate. "With this test as a supplement to CT scan, we can diagnose people earlier and, hopefully, finally begin to improve the survival rate," says Kelly.
How it works: A sample of your blood is sent to a laboratory, and results are sent to your doctor about a week later. A positive result means the test detected signs your immune system's been activated in response to the presence of cancer cells. In that case, your doctor will arrange for you to have an imaging scan to search for the presence of tumors. A negative test can't guarantee that you're cancer free, but it does mean your body isn't reacting visibly to the presence of protein-producing tumors.
Covered by insurance? The CDT-lung cancer test is now covered by the majority of major medical insurers and is also covered by Medicare Part B. The testing company will bill your insurance provider for you.
Who should get it: Long-term smokers and former smokers are at high risk for lung cancer and qualify for this test. Exposure to radon, asbestos, or significant secondhand smoke also puts you in the high-risk category. Oncimmune, the test maker, hopes to have a breast cancer blood test based on the same science available within the next year.