Lung cancer is the second most common cancer for men and women in the U.S. Here’s what you should know about getting screened and if its right for you.
The earlier a disease is detected, the better chance you have of being treated successfully. That’s why screening, or testing, for a disease may make sense.
Because a person may be symptom free until lung cancer is at an advanced stage, early detection is important. The earlier its detected, the greater the chances it can be cured.
Who Should Get Screened?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), lung cancer screening is recommended for adults at high risk for developing the disease, are relatively healthy, and have no symptoms.
What makes one high risk? Lung cancer can appear in anyone, but smoking is the biggest risk factor and the leading cause.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends yearly screenings for people who:
- Have a 20 pack-year smoking history, and
- Smoke now or have quit in the past 15 years, and
- Are between the ages of 50 and 80 years old
What’s a 20 pack-year? A pack-year is the number of packs of cigarettes per day consumed multiplied by the number of years smoked. A 20-pack year means smoking the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes a day for 20 years. Smoking two packs a day for 10 years would count as a 20 pack-year history, even though the timeframe is 10 years.
How Do I Get Screened?
The screening test for lung cancer is a low dose computed tomography scan or a CT scan. During this pain-free procedure, an x-ray machine uses a low dose of radiation to capture detailed images of your lungs. It is non-invasive and only takes about 10 minutes. Your doctor should be able to recommend a facility with the equipment and experience to provide an appropriate scan.
Can I Just Get A Chest X-Ray?
X-rays are not recommended for lung cancer screening as they have not been shown to save lives. Low-dose CT scans can help find abnormal areas in the lungs and can lower the risk of dying from lung cancer by catching it before symptoms begin.
Are There Risks In Being Screened?
As with any screening, there is always a risk of getting a false positive – which means you test positive for lung cancer when no cancer is present. This could mean further testing only to find out there is no occurrence of cancer. Discuss the risks with your doctor so you can decide if getting screened is right for you.
The best way to reduce your risk of lung cancer is to quit smoking if you do, and to avoid second-hand smoke. Regular screening is NOT an alternative to stopping smoking.
Need Help Quitting?
Talk to your doctor about options available to you. There are lots of helpful resources online including this page from the American Cancer Society. Check with your employer as well – they may have a tobacco cessation program that can help!
Information for this article was sourced from the CDC, the American Cancer Society, and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.