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Lung Cancer Screening

Surviving lung cancer depends on catching it early, and catching it early is difficult to do without screening. That's why Medicare, Medicaid and many insurance plans cover an annual low-dose CT scan for people at high risk of developing lung cancer.

Who needs testing?

Should you be screened for lung cancer?

Use this decision tool to ponder the pros and cons of lung cancer screening.

Should you be screened for lung cancer?

reviewed 6/21/2019

Lung cancer screening

Is it right for you?

If you've ever been a smoker—or spent a lot of time around secondhand smoke—you might wonder if you should be screened for lung cancer. Low-dose CT scans can detect lung cancer early, before symptoms appear. But screening isn't for everybody. This tool is designed to help you decide whether lung cancer screening is appropriate for you.

Are you age 55 to 74 with a history of heavy smoking?

If you answered "yes." Two of the criteria for lung cancer screening are being age 55 to 74* and having a history of heavy smoking. Heavy smoking is defined as a smoking history of 30 "pack years" or more. A "pack year" is smoking an average of one pack of cigarettes per day for one year. For example, a person could have a 30-pack-year history by smoking one pack a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years.

*If you're on Medicare, the covered age range is 55 to 77 years old.

If you answered "no." Two of the criteria for lung cancer screening are being age 55 to 74* and having a history of heavy smoking. Heavy smoking is defined as a smoking history of 30 "pack years" or more. A "pack year" is smoking an average of one pack of cigarettes per day for one year. For example, a person could have a 30-pack-year history by smoking one pack a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years.

If you don't have a history of heavy smoking, lung cancer screening may not be recommended.

*If you're on Medicare, the covered age range is 55 to 77 years old.

Are you a current smoker? If not, did you quit within the last 15 years?

If you answered "yes." Quitting smoking is even better than screening for reducing your risk of lung cancer. But if you still smoke or quit within the past 15 years, screening may be recommended.

If you answered "no." Quitting smoking is even better than screening for reducing your risk of lung cancer. If you never smoked or you successfully quit more than 15 years ago, lung cancer screening may not be recommended.

Have you discussed the benefits of screening with your doctor?

If you answered "yes." Great. But just to recap, if you are screened for lung cancer, you may have a decreased chance of dying from lung cancer.

People with the highest risk are the most likely to benefit from screening. For example, people who smoke more than one pack a day have a higher risk for lung cancer than people who quit 10 years ago.

If you answered "no." If you are screened for lung cancer, you may have a decreased chance of dying from lung cancer.

People with the highest risk are the most likely to benefit from screening. For example, people who smoke more than one pack a day have a higher risk for lung cancer than people who quit 10 years ago.

Are you aware of the potential harms of screening?

If you answered "yes." OK. But just to make sure, harms include false alarms and additional testing that may turn out to have been unnecessary. A false alarm occurs when a person has a positive screening test but doesn't actually have lung cancer. That can lead to other tests, such as a biopsy, which involves removing a small bit of lung tissue to test it for signs of cancer. An invasive procedure like a biopsy can have complications, such as a collapsed lung or an infection.

The risks of invasive procedures like biopsies may be greater if you have medical problems caused by heavy or long-term smoking.

If you answered "no." Potential harms include false alarms and additional testing that may turn out to have been unnecessary. A false alarm occurs when a person has a positive screening test but doesn't actually have lung cancer. That can lead to other tests, such as a biopsy, which involves removing a small bit of lung tissue to test it for signs of cancer. An invasive procedure like a biopsy can have complications, such as a collapsed lung or an infection.

The risks of invasive procedures like biopsies may be greater if you have medical problems caused by heavy or long-term smoking.

Are you willing and healthy enough to have surgery if lung cancer is detected?

If you answered "yes." OK. Lung cancer screening is not recommended for people who are not willing or able to undergo surgery to treat their lung cancer.

If you answered "no." Lung cancer screening is not recommended for people who are not willing or able to undergo surgery to treat their lung cancer. That's because the benefits would not be worth the risks of the screening.

Do you have any symptoms of lung cancer?

If you answered "yes." Signs and symptoms of lung cancer include:

  • A cough that doesn't go away or gets worse.
  • Chest pain that is often worse when you breathe deeply, cough or laugh.
  • A hoarse voice.
  • Unexplained weight loss and loss of appetite.
  • Coughing up blood or rust-colored spit or phlegm.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Infections like bronchitis and pneumonia that won't go away or keep returning.
  • Wheezing.

If you have any of the above symptoms, talk to your doctor as soon as possible. Screening tests are meant to detect signs and symptoms of cancer before they become apparent.

If you answered "no." That's good. Screening tests are meant to detect signs and symptoms of cancer before they become apparent. But just to review, possible signs and symptoms of lung cancer include:

  • A cough that doesn't go away or gets worse.
  • Chest pain that is often worse when you breathe deeply, cough or laugh.
  • A hoarse voice.
  • Unexplained weight loss and loss of appetite.
  • Coughing up blood or rust-colored spit or phlegm.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Infections like bronchitis and pneumonia that won't go away or keep returning.
  • Wheezing.

If you have any of the above symptoms, you should call your doctor's office as soon as possible.

Results

Talk with your doctor about your results, and be sure to ask any questions that came up in this assessment. Together, you can decide what the right next step is for you.

Sources: American Cancer Society; Medicare.gov; National Cancer Institute

According to the US Preventive Services Task Force, you are at high risk of developing lung cancer if all three of these things are true for you:

  • You have a smoking history of 30 pack years or more. To figure your pack years, take the number of packs you smoked per day multiplied by the number of years you smoked. For example: If you smoked 2 packs a day for 15 years, that would be 30 pack years.
  • You smoke now, or you quit within the last 15 years.
  • You’re between 55 and 77 years old.

What are the risks and benefits?

The biggest benefit of lung cancer screening is that it can find lung cancer in its beginning stages, which helps lower the risk of dying from the disease.

Early diagnosis also means that doctors might be able to use minimally invasive surgery to remove the cancer and preserve more lung tissue.

Other benefits of low-dose CT lung cancer screening include:

  • It’s fast, painless and noninvasive.
  • It uses much less radiation than a traditional CT scan of the chest.

There are possible risks, including the chance that the test might indicate cancer when no cancer is present. This is called a false positive and can cause anxiety and lead to more invasive tests. Although it’s impossible to avoid all false-positive results, getting incredibly detailed imaging helps.

Lake Regional Imaging Center uses a 128-slice scanner that captures exceptional detail and does so at a high scan speed. That means patients do not have to hold their breath as long, so we get better images and need fewer rescans.

What if there's a concern?

If your screening identifies an area of concern, a Lake Regional pulmonologist can perform an endobronchial ultrasound, also called EBUS. In this procedure, the doctor uses a scope to view multiple areas of the lungs and to collect tissue samples. The doctor can then determine if there is cancer and if so, how far it has spread all without invasive surgery. Learn more about EBUS.

How do I get the test?

If you are interested in receiving lung cancer screening, discuss the testing with your doctor. A physician’s order is required for the service. Find a doctor here.

Contact Us

Lake Regional Cancer Center
54 Hospital Drive
Osage Beach, MO 65065
573.302.2772

Hours

Monday through Thursday, 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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