If you’re a longtime smoker between ages 55 and 80 who’s been smoking a pack a day for 30 years or the equivalent (for example, three packs a day for 10 years or two packs a day for 20 years), then you’re in a group who should be getting screened for lung cancer, according to U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendations. The same goes for ex-smokers who quit within the last 15 years. The reason for screening is simple: When lung cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, it’s more likely to be curable.
Cancer Can Be Detected Before Symptoms Arise
Screening for lung cancer is a relatively simple procedure. The Task Force recommends a low-dose CT scan. For this test, an X-ray machine scans the patient's body using low doses of radiation to make detailed pictures of the lungs for the patient's doctor to investigate. The screenings are important because lung cancer symptoms don’t usually develop until the cancer is fairly far along, putting patients at a higher risk of mortality. Annual screenings will let your doctor know what's happening with you from year to year, which may help them diagnose potential lung cancer earlier, giving you and your doctor more time to combat it in its beginning stage, and hopefully keep it from spreading.
Benefit Outweighs Risks
As with any test involving radiation, there are risks associated with a low-dose CT scan. However, the benefit for people falling under the Task Force guidelines for annual screening often outweighs the risks.
Screening isn’t recommended for everyone. Talk to your doctor about your smoking history and whether you might be a candidate for lung cancer screening.
Have questions about lung cancer screenings? Leave a comment.
Dr. Saikin is an Internal Medicine physician at Kelsey-Seybold’s Pearland Clinic. His goal is to provide care that will help patients and their families live longer by preventing illness. He welcomes new patients and accepts most health insurance plans.