Do I need a lung cancer screening?
Of all cancers, lung cancer is one of the deadliest. It’s the cause of 1 out of every 4 cancer deaths nationwide. A key reason: Lung cancer is rarely caught until it’s already advanced and hard to treat.
That’s why lung cancer screening is so important. It helps find cancer before symptoms start, when it’s most treatable. In fact, if everyone eligible for lung cancer screening got tested, as many as 12,000 lives could be saved every year in this country, according to researchers from the American Cancer Society.
What is lung cancer screening?
The best test for catching lung cancer early is a low-dose CT scan. It uses x-rays to make a series of detailed images of the lungs.
If you’re at high risk, getting this test yearly could reduce your risk of dying from lung cancer by about 20 percent, compared to a standard chest x-ray.
Is it right for me?
That’s a crucial question to discuss with your doctor. It depends on your age, smoking history and other factors. In general, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that you get a low-dose CT scan every year if you meet all three of these criteria:
- You are 55 to 80 years old.
- You have a history of heavy smoking. For example, you’ve smoked a pack a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years.
- You still smoke or you quit in the last 15 years.
Routine screening isn’t for everybody. It does carry some risks. For example, even though test uses low-dose x-rays, you are still exposed to some radiation.
Another risk is false alarms. The scans may find abnormalities that turn out not to be cancer but still need to be checked out. That could lead to more invasive tests—for instance, a biopsy.
But for people at high risk for lung cancer, it’s worth considering. To start off, ask your doctor:
- Am I a good candidate for lung cancer screening?
- If my screening were to find cancer, how likely is it that treatment would help me?
- What can I do to lower my risk for lung cancer?
Quitting smoking is still crucial
As beneficial as screening may be, it’s never a substitute for quitting smoking. The most effective way to protect yourself from lung cancer is to stay away from tobacco.
It’s never too late to stop. These 12 tools can help you break free of tobacco—no matter how long you’ve smoked. And they’re all free.