In the United States, lung cancer takes more lives than colon, breast and prostate cancers combined. According to the American Cancer Society, it is by far the leading cause of cancer death, accounting for about 1 in 5.
Early detection through lung cancer screenings is incredibly important for this type of cancer. When lung cancer is found early, before it has spread to other parts of the body, it is more likely to result in a positive outcome.
Despite the seriousness of lung cancer, some people with earlier-stage cancers can be cured. A study by the National Cancer Institute found that lung cancer screenings, particularly low-dose CT scans, helped reduce lung cancer deaths among people who smoke by 15% to 20%.
Many times, symptoms of lung cancer are not evident until the disease has begun to spread. If you are age 50 or older, are a current smoker (or a former smoker who quit less than 15 years ago) and are in good health with at least a 20-pack year smoking history, talk to your doctor about getting screened. 20-pack year is one pack of cigarettes per day for 20 years or two packs a day for 10 years, for example.
Smoking is the biggest risk factor for getting lung cancer. But it is possible for nonsmokers to develop lung cancer. Other risk factors include:
A low-dose computed tomography test (low-dose CT scan) is a test used to screen for lung cancer at an earlier stage, when treatment is more effective. It’s the only proven test to screen for early detection and diagnosis of lung cancer.
A low-dose CT scan uses a special X-ray machine and a low-dose of radiation to create high-quality images of your lungs. The exposure to radiation in a low-dose CT scan is more than a standard X-ray, but up to 90% less than a conventional CT chest scan. The procedure is painless and non-invasive. No preparation is required.
When you arrive at your appointment and register, you will be taken to the CT room. They will ask you to lay on a table and move you in and out of the machine three times. From the time you walk into the CT until you walk out takes about 15 minutes.
The results are read by a radiologist and typically available within 2-3 business days. Low-dose CT scan result could show:
A nurse will call you to review the results, discuss the recommendation and answer any questions or concerns.
If testing indicates possible cancer, your provider may perform a biopsy to confirm the presence and type of cancer. This is a procedure which removes a piece of the nodule for testing.
There are a few different ways a lung biopsy might be done.
Making an appointment with your primary care provider is the first step to getting screened for lung cancer. They’ll go over your risk factors and screening options, and guide you on next steps.