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Should I Get a Lung Cancer Screening?

Lung screening

One of the reasons lung cancer kills more men and women than any other cancer is that it's often not detected until it's at a late stage.

Lung cancer can be very advanced by the time symptoms appear.

"New data tells us lung cancer screening is actually more effective than we thought," says Dr. Peter Julien, chief of thoracic imaging at Cedars-Sinai.

For many years, there were no options for lung cancer screening after studies found that chest X-rays do a poor job of finding lung cancers. Then, in 2015, Medicare and Medicaid started covering a test called a low-dose CT scan to screen people who are at high risk of developing lung cancer.

The decision to make this testing more accessible was based on the results of a large US study showing that the screening accurately identified areas in the lungs that could be cancerous.

"If we can find lung cancer when it's still treatable, there's potential to save thousands of lives."

A European study presented at an international lung cancer conference in 2018 showed even more encouraging results. It found that the scans reduced lung cancer deaths by 26% in men and up to 61% in women.

"If we can find lung cancer when it's still treatable, there's potential to save thousands of lives," Dr. Julien says.

"It can't be stated strongly enough: The numbers are even more encouraging than what we've seen with mammography, and we know what a difference that screening test made in preventing breast cancer deaths."

Should I be screened for lung cancer?

Here's who should consider lung cancer screening:

  • People ages 55 to 77 who are current or ex-smokers in fairly good health
  • People who currently smoke or quit in the last 15 years
  • People who have smoked a pack a day for 30 years, 2 packs a day for 15 years, or equivalent
  • People with a history of lung cancer

The screening has some additional benefits, too, Dr. Julien says. Seeing is believing for some smokers.

"When you show someone the damage they've done to their lungs, it's one of the most effective means of motivating someone to stop smoking," he says.

The scans can also identify early development of coronary artery disease and fat infiltration of the liver.

If you think you're a candidate for lung cancer screening, talk to your primary care doctor about being screened.

Don't have a primary care physician? Find one here.