Should You be Screened for Lung Cancer?

CT Screening Saves Lives.  Screening is a test used to detect lung cancer before any symptoms appear.  New research has provided hope in the fight against lung cancer. Results of the National Lung Screening Trial (NLST) released in August, 2011, showed that screening with low-dose spiral computed tomography (CT) scans versus standard chest X-rays reduced lung cancer deaths among older heavy smokers by 20 percent. Improved detection at earlier stages, when lung cancer is more easily treated, is key to increased survival.

Here are some questions to help you decide if CT screening is right for you.

Am I a candidate for lung cancer screening? Yes, if you are:

  • a current or former smoker
  • and in the age group from 55 to 74 years
  • and with a smoking history of at least 30 pack-years (this means 1 pack a day for 30 years, 2 packs a day for 15 years, etc.)

However, the best way to prevent lung cancer is to never smoke or stop smoking now. If you are still smoking, talk to your doctor about ways to help you quit smoking or call the Illinois Tobacco Quitline at 1-800-QUIT YES (1-800-784-8937).

Should I get a CT scan to screen for lung cancer? Discuss your complete health history with your own doctor and ask for a clear explanation about the possible benefits and risk. Screening for lung cancer with low dose CT scans may save your life, yet there are some risks and not everyone should be screened.

Chest X-rays rays should never be used for lung cancer screening.

What happens if I choose to get a CT scan for lung cancer? There is some radiation risk with a CT scan and you may need to have additional tests and procedures. You should go to a hospital or screening center that has a team of experts who will clearly explain the procedure to you. The team should tell you about all the risks and benefits of the screening; what the results can mean and how they will follow up with you after the initial screening.

What does it cost to have a CT scan for lung cancer? The cost is usually $300 to $500. Health insurance companies and Medicare may not cover the cost for a CT scan to screen for lung cancer at this time. Be sure to check with your insurance plan to see what is covered. Ask your doctor and the facility doing the CT scan to carefully and clearly explain all costs that you may possibly have and not just the cost of the CT scan alone.

What do the results mean?  “Suspicious” means that the CT scan found something abnormal. This could mean lung cancer or some other serious condition. You may need to have additional procedures to find out exactly what is abnormal. If you do have lung cancer or some other serious condition, your doctor and the team of experts should discuss all possible treatment options with you.

“Negative” means that there were no abnormal findings on this CT scan. This does not mean you absolutely do not have lung cancer or that you will never get lung cancer. Your doctor should discuss when and if you should be tested again.

Where can I get more information about lung cancer and lung cancer screening? Contact the American Lung Association to find out more. The Lung HelpLine is staffed by registered nurses and respiratory therapists, and offers free counseling and support to callers seeking information about lung cancer. They can help you find a CT Screening Resource for you or your family member. Simply call 1-800-586-4872, Option 2.

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Physicians: Download Frequently Asked Questions

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