Should you be screened for lung cancer?
If you are a current or former smoker, or have other risk factors, the answer may be yes.
Lung cancer causes more deaths each year than any other form of cancer. In fact, more people die from lung cancer than from colon, breast and prostate cancer combined. The reason why lung cancer is so deadly is that it is too often found after the disease has already spread throughout the lungs or to other areas of the body.
You may feel scared that cancer may be found, but this test is designed to detect lung cancer before it has spread, and before the outward symptoms appear. Lung cancer screening can help find lung cancer at an early stage when it can be cured!
Risk factors for lung cancer include:
- Tobacco smoking or contact with secondhand smoke
- Contact with radon
- Contact with asbestos or other cancer-causing agents
- Personal history of certain other cancers
- Family history of lung cancer
- Having had other lung diseases
If you quit smoking your risk will decrease, but it will remain higher than for those who have never smoked.
The advantages of starting a screening program NOW
Screening for lung cancer is recommended for those 55 and over who have smoked for 30+ years. People who quit smoking more than 15+ years ago are excluded. You may also be eligible if you are over 50, have smoked for 20 or more pack-years and have at least one more risk factor (other than secondhand smoke).
How is the screening test conducted?
Lung screening is performed with low-dose computed tomography (LDCT). It is a fast and completely non-invasive test that takes only a few minutes. You simply lie on your back and hold your breath while the donut-shaped machine takes X-ray based pictures of your lungs and chest.
After your test, the images are then interpreted by a board-certified radiologist. This radiologist has been specially trained to look for and diagnose abnormalities within the lungs. The radiologist will then present a written report of the findings to your physician.
If no lung problems are detected, your LDCT should be repeated in one year. After two years, your doctor may want you to continue yearly screening, or recommend a different frequency of screening.
Is lung screening covered by insurance?
LDCT is generally covered by insurance with a referral from your doctor, and if you meet the criteria. You may ask your insurance company if the test is covered for you, but if it is not, you should know that the out-of-pocket cost for the test is very affordable.
What happens if the scan finds something?
It is not uncommon for a CT lung screening to find a small nodule or mass in the lungs, especially in current or former smokers. Most nodules are not cancer, and could be the result of an old infection, scar tissue or another cause. But your doctor may want to monitor the nodule to see if it is growing over time, or recommend another imaging test or biopsy.
Don’t wait… talk to your doctor today
Your doctor now knows that lung cancer screening with LDCT is proven to save lives. Talk to your doctor about your individual risk factors and to help you determine if a lung screening program is right for you.
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