Who Should Get Screened for Lung Cancer?
Lung cancer is the deadliest cancer in the United States, but when it’s detected early, more options for treatment can help point to successful outcomes.
In the disease’s early stages, though, there can be few symptoms, making it harder to detect. Even if there are symptoms, they can be easily — and falsely — attributed to other causes.
However, recent findings have shown that lung cancer screenings can reduce deaths by 20%-30% in high-risk populations. Making sure to schedule a lung cancer screening is critical.
People with a history of smoking cigarettes have a high risk of lung cancer. Tobacco use accounts for almost 90% of all lung cancers. The more cigarettes you smoke per day and the earlier you started smoking, the greater your risk of lung cancer.
A lung cancer screening is recommended if you:
Are between 50 and 77 years old.
Smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for 20 years, or two packs a day for 10 years.
Quit smoking within the past 15 years but meet the above criteria.
If you meet the criteria above, talk with your doctor to decide if screening is right for you. A doctor’s order is required to schedule a screening.
Using a low-dose CT (LDCT) scan, doctors look for suspicious growths called lung nodules. This scan involves less radiation than a standard X-ray or CT scan, so you don’t have to worry about unnecessary exposure.
A ring-shaped CT scanner passes over you while you lie on a narrow table. The scan is painless and doesn’t require any special preparation. You may be asked to hold your breath a few times during the scan.
If a nodule is detected, you’ll be contacted for further evaluation. You may meet with a pulmonologist or thoracic surgeon who explains the findings and next steps of your care. It may involve a more detailed scan or procedure to take a tissue sample.
Remember: Finding nodules does not always mean a cancer diagnosis. They can be due to other issues, such as scars or previous infections. In addition, LDCT scans do not find all lung cancers, and cancers they do find can be at any stage of progression.
Talk with your health care provider about your personal health and risk. Some questions to ask are:
- What are the limits and risks of screening? Understanding potential outcomes before you go for a screening may reduce feelings of fear or anxiety.
- Am I healthy enough to get a screening? The risks of screening outweigh the benefits for certain people. For example, if someone can’t have lung surgery to remove the cancer, screening may not be a good option.
- Where should I go for a lung cancer screening and treatment if needed? Expert groups advise having lung cancer screenings at centers with the proper experience. These facilities should have specialists on staff. They can handle follow-up appointments, questions and care.
- Is there any cost associated with the annual screening? Medicare and many private health insurance plans cover lung cancers screenings. It’s a good idea to ask your health care provider whether insurance will cover costs before scheduling a test.
Meet the requirements for lung cancer screening? Talk to your doctor about whether a LDCT scan is right for you. The benefit is significant: a lower risk of dying from lung cancer.