Should You Be Screened for Lung Cancer?

February 24, 2015

Lung cancer screening with low-dose CT is now covered by Medicare and private insurers for current and heavy smokers. There’s a reason. Lung cancer is one of the most deadly diseases, and early detection can save lives. Here, lung cancer specialists Betty Tong, MD, and Jared Christensen, MD, explain what you need to know about lung cancer screening, and who should be screened.

What is Lung Cancer Screening?

Radiologists use low-dose CT scan to take detailed pictures of the lungs. These images are analyzed for any findings that may represent lung cancer. The low doses of radiation are much less likely to cause health problems than the problems caused by smoking.

Who Should Get Screened?

Current or former heavy smokers between the ages of 55 and 80 who have been smoking for at least 30 pack-years, and have no major health problems or conditions that would prevent them from receiving cancer treatments. Current guidelines also recommend CT lung cancer screening for people who are 50 or older, have been smoking for 20 pack-years, and have one additional lung cancer risk factor such as:

  • Exposure to radon, asbestos, silica or other carcinogen
  • Personal history of lymphoma or a smoking-related cancer, including head and neck cancer or bladder cancer
  • Family history of lung cancer
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Talk to your doctor about lung cancer screening to find out if you are eligible.

Why Should I Be Screened for Lung Cancer?

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Annual screening with CT scans can find lung cancers in their earliest stage, when the cancer is easier to treat. The National Lung Screening Trial showed that screening with low-dose CT can reduce the risk of death from lung cancer by 20% in current and former heavy smokers, compared to those who were screened using a chest x-ray.

Why Should I Be Screened at Duke?

The Duke Lung Cancer Screening program is accredited by the American College of Radiology, and provides access to the most advanced diagnostic screening tool available: low-dose spiral CT scans. These scans are highly accurate and minimize radiation exposure. If lung cancer is detected, you will have direct access to a team of lung cancer specialists experienced in caring for people at every stage of the disease, from diagnosis to treatment and beyond. They are committed to providing the most advanced services, as well as comprehensive support and education to you during and after your treatment.

What are the Facts About Lung Cancer Screening?

People may elect not to undergo lung cancer screening because they don’t think it will help, or because they believe it may result in a “false positive” where they would be tested or treated when not necessary. It is important to weigh the risks and fact when making a decision. Here are the facts:

  • Lung cancer screening saves lives. Low-dose CT scan has been shown to reduce the risk of dying from lung cancer by 20%.
  • Earlier diagnosis equals more treatment options. When lung cancer is caught earlier, such as through low-dose CT screening, treatments are more effective, and more treatment options may be available.
  • Low doses of radiation. CT screening uses low doses of radiation to produce images. Cumulative radiation exposure, even in low doses, can damage cells and may result in cancer later in life. however, the risk of developing a radiation-induced cancer is extremely low. Duke uses a special low-dose method to minimize radiation exposure.
  • False positive results are not common. Only 365 people in 1,000 experience a false positive result. And only 25 people of those 365 undergo an invasive procedure, such as a biopsy as a result. Only three of those 25 people will have serious complications as a result.
  • False negatives are also uncommon. Occasionally, the signs of lung cancer are unclear or get overlooked. However, in the National Lung Screening Trial, the false negative rate was less than 1 in 100.
  • Lung cancer is rarely slow growing. Only 4 in 1,000 people are diagnosed with a “slow growing” lung cancer that would not result in serious illness or death.

How Can I Reduce My Risk of Lung Cancer?

Stop smoking now.

It’s the most powerful way to lower your chance of lung cancer. You will experience the benefits within minutes of quitting smoking. Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW for help, or learn more about our smoking cessation programs.

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Lung Cancer Screening