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How This Simple Test Helps the Fight Against Lung Cancer

Cancer Care
Author name: Lee Health

The most important thing you need to know: A lung cancer screening could save your life.

Patients hear these warnings all the time, but many don’t realize the danger. There will be an estimated 142,000 deaths from lung cancer in the United States this year, according to the American Cancer Society.

Lung cancer is by far the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women – more than breast, prostate, and colorectal – because, quite simply, once symptoms appear, it’s often too late.

But a new screening program helps doctors find small nodules before they spread – allowing you more time, resources, and a chance to fight back.

“In 2010, there was a lung cancer screening trial that showed low-dose lung cancer screening CT can decrease the mortality of lung cancer by 20 percent. So this low-dose CT scan can find cancer before it spreads outside the lungs,” said Dr. Sharik Rathur, a radiologist on the medical staff of Lee Health.

Patients who qualify for the screening must meet these requirements:

  • They must be considered high risk for developing lung cancer – these are patients who are current smokers or who quit smoking in the last 15 years
  • They must not have symptoms
  • They must be 55 and older

High-risk patients are screened every year to make sure cancer hasn’t developed.

“We can see small nodules the size of a grain of rice and we can identify those and follow them up,” Dr. Rathur said.

The benefits of a lung cancer screening speak for themselves: The five-year survival rate dramatically improves to 68-92 percent if lung cancer is diagnosed in stage 1.

A stage 4 diagnosis, on the other hand, results in a zero to 10 percent survival rate.

How does the screening work?

The low-dose computed tomography scan takes 30 seconds. Just think about that: 30 seconds could make all the difference in your life!

The scan requires no IVs or medications. You simply lie still on a table, which slowly moves through the scanner.

The computer takes pictures and puts them together for an incredibly detailed image that identifies abnormalities in your lungs.

Worried about radiation exposure? The scan’s radiation exposure is more than a regular X-ray, but it is less than a regular CT scan. One thing to remember is that radiation in a low-dose CT is about equal to what you receive in your natural environment exposure over six months.

If no problems are found, experts recommend the screening each year until you are no longer a candidate or you reach age 77.

Should I be screened?

You should be screened if:

  • You are 55-77 years old
  • You have a 30-pack-a-year smoking history
  • You are a current smoker or former smoker within the last 15 years
  • You have NONE of these signs of lung cancer:
    • A cough that does not go away or gets worse
    • Coughing up blood or rust-colored spit or phlegm
    • Chest pain that is worse with deep breathing, coughing, or laughing
    • Hoarseness
    • Weight loss and loss of appetite
    • Shortness of breath
    • Feeling tired or weak
    • Infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia that don’t go away or keep returning
    • New onset of wheezing

Other risks besides smoking

  • Cigar and pipe smoking
  • Secondhand smoke
  • Radon, which is naturally occurring radioactive gas from soil and rocks, most common in northern states that have houses with basements
  • Asbestos from mines, mills, textile plants, places using insulation, and in shipyards
  • Uranium, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, silica, vinyl chloride, nickel compounds, chromium compounds, coal products, mustard gas, and chloromethyl ethers
  • Air pollution
  • Previous radiation therapy for treatment of lung cancer, breast cancer, and Hodgkin disease.
  • Personal or family history of lung cancer