Smokers and former smokers: Ask about this screening

April 22, 2021 | by Brian Myre, M.D.

Lung cancer is by far the most common cause of cancer death in the U.S. Each year, more people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast and prostate cancers combined.

The best prevention is to quit smoking. It’s also important for high-risk individuals to get a lung cancer screening, which can detect cancer in early stages when it is significantly easier to treat. Early-stage cancer can be removed with a minimally invasive surgical procedure often without the need for chemotherapy or radiation.

Doctors recommend lung cancer screening for patients who have higher than normal risk for lung cancer based on a history of smoking. If patients have symptoms or a cancer diagnosis is suspected, different tests are usually ordered.

The U.S. Preventive Service Task Force (USPSTF) makes recommendations about when screening should be done. Recently, the task force published a study in the Journal of American Medical Association in which the recommended age to get screened and the number of pack years of smoking history was lowered.

The USPSTF now recommends that adults between the ages of 50 and 80 with a 20 pack-year smoking history (smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for 20 years, or two packs a day for 10 years) and currently smoke or quit within the past 15 years, should get an annual lung cancer screening with low-dose computed tomography (LDCT).

LDCT creates three-dimensional images of the lungs using a much smaller dose of radiation than a traditional CT scan. 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.

Under the new recommendations, millions more Americans are eligible for the screening. A modeling study to inform the USPSTF guidelines suggested that LDCT screening for lung cancer could “lead to important reductions in lung cancer death and result in significant life-years gained.”

Although people who never smoked can get lung cancer, the screening is only recommended for adults who are at high risk for developing the disease because of their smoking history and age.

Edward-Elmhurst Health provides low-dose CT lung screening for at-risk patients. Ask your doctor if a lung cancer screening is right for you. To schedule one, call 630-527-3200 (a physician order is required). Learn more about our low-dose CT lung screening for at-risk patients.

In the event of a suspicious finding, your doctor may refer you to our Multidisciplinary Clinic, in which a team of specialists gets together to review the findings and develop an individualized plan of care.

Learn more about comprehensive lung cancer care at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Get resources to quit smoking.

Want to detect a lung problem early to breathe easier? Take our free, 5-minute online Lung Aware Risk Assessment.

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