Screening for Lung Cancer: April 17, 2019
While the numbers are dropping, doctors say whether you’re a current smoker or a recent non-smoker, you are at risk for developing lung cancer. “We’re down in this country to the lowest percentage that we’ve ever been. Only about 14 percent of the population is current smokers,” said Dr. Keith Miller, a radiation oncologist on the medical staff of Lee Health.
“The risk never drops off completely. The longer you go without smoking, the risk of developing lung cancer drops off over time, but never to the point of a non-smoker.” Dr. Miller says that’s the bad news, but a new screening is bringing good news for patients who are at risk for developing lung cancer but are not yet showing symptoms. “The screening is a quick cat scan. No needles, no injections, no pain. It’s what’s called a low radiation cat scan, so it’s a quicker, more limited cat scan.”
Patients who are considered high risk qualify for a yearly screening starting at age 55. The earlier a patient is diagnosed, the better their outcome. “The cure rate with a stage four maybe one or two percent, whereas a stage three maybe 10 to 20 percent, but a stage one may be as high as 70, 75 percent, so it just puts the odds in our favor,” said Dr. Miller.
The goal of the screening is to catch lung cancer early—before symptoms begin. “Somebody who has a persistent cough, chest pain, coughing up blood, something’s not right, and then it’s a diagnostic evaluation. It’s really not a screening. You’re looking at the person to find out what the source of the problem is,” he said.
But early screening can give patients a fighting chance against lung cancer.