If you’re concerned about lung cancer, here’s what you need to know about screening tests.
Anyone can get lung cancer although smoking is the single biggest risk factor and causes about 85% of lung cancer cases. When found early, lung cancer is treatable. But symptoms don’t usually appear until the cancer is advanced. That’s why although lung cancer is the third most common type of cancer in the United States, it is the leading cause of cancer-related death.
Early detection may help save your life but screening is only recommended for adults who are at high risk for lung cancer, are relatively healthy and have no symptoms. But how do you know if or when you should be screened?
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the American Cancer Society recommend that adults between the ages of 55 and 80 who currently smoke or have quit in the past 15 years and have at least a 30 pack-year smoking history (equal to smoking a pack a day for 30 years or 2 packs a day for 15 years) get an annual low-dose chest CT scan. The CT scan is non-invasive and only takes about 10 minutes to complete.
The goal of this recommendation is to make it easier to identify lung cancer at its earliest stages, when it has the highest chance of being cured. The National Lung Screening Trial found that people who got a low-dose CT scan had a 20% lower chance of dying from lung cancer than those who got chest x-rays. The most common risk of the screening is finding abnormal readings that require further testing but are not actually cancer.
If you’re concerned about whether you should be screened for lung cancer due to your age and smoking history, talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits so you can decide if this test is right for you. You should note, however, that getting screened for lung cancer is not a substitute for quitting smoking. The best way to lower your risk for lung cancer is to quit.
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Date Last Reviewed: September 9, 2019
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD