Should I have a lung cancer screening?

September 10, 2020 | by Brian Myre, M.D.

Although it may not seem as common as a mammogram or a colonoscopy, lung cancer screening is an important preventive health exam. This screening looks at the lungs of a healthy person who meets certain lung cancer risk factors and, when repeated annually, doctors are able to use the screening to monitor the lungs for changes from year to year.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States with about 220,000 Americans diagnosed and 150,000 dying from the disease each year. When found at an early stage, lung cancer survival rates are much higher. Although only about 1% of screenings find lung cancer, early detection can positively affect a patient’s prognosis.

When is lung cancer screening recommended?

Doctors may recommend a lung cancer screening for patients who have higher than normal risk for lung cancer, not those who are thought to have lung cancer. If patients have symptoms or a cancer diagnosis is suspected, different tests will be ordered.

Low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) scan is used for lung cancer screening. Through a small dose of radiation — less than 75% of a traditional CT scan — LDCT creates three-dimensional images of the lungs. These pictures are much more detailed than a standard chest X-ray and allow physicians to better visualize the lungs. The test takes about 15 minutes. You will be asked to hold your breath for a few seconds during the exam.

Specific criteria for lung cancer screening include:

  • Being 55-80 years old
  • Current smoker or quit smoking within the last 15 years
  • Smoking history of ≥30 pack-years (pack-years = packs smoked per day x number of years smoked)

What should I ask my doctor about lung cancer screening?

Consider the following questions when discussing a lung cancer screening with your physician:

  • Am I at high risk for lung cancer?
  • Would you recommend a lung cancer screening with LDCT for me?
  • What happens if I am high risk but don’t choose to get screened for lung cancer?
  • Should I do anything to prepare before the screening test?
  • How soon will I receive my results?
  • What happens if the lung cancer screening shows something of concern?

Your doctor will help you weigh the risks and benefits of preventive screening tests and make informed decisions for your personal health. Should you decide to move forward with an LCDT lung cancer screening, your doctor’s office will provide you with an order and details about scheduling your test.

Cancer is a journey no one expects to take. We’re with you every step of the way. Learn more about cancer care at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Learn more about Edward-Elmhurst Health’s cancer care from Healthy Driven Chicago.

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