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Lung Cancer Screening

Should You Be Screened for Lung Cancer?

Find out if you are at high risk.

Key Points

  • Lung cancer screening can help find lung cancer at an early stage when it is easier to treat.
  • At this time, studies have shown that low-dose spiral CT scan is the only lung cancer screening tool that reduces the risk of dying from lung cancer.
  • Lung cancer screening is not right for everyone.

One reason why lung cancer is so serious is because by the time you have symptoms, it may already have spread and become more difficult to treat. Screening is looking for cancer before you have any symptoms, which can help find cancer at an early stage when it may be easier to treat.

Scientists study screening tests to find those with the fewest risks and most benefits. They look at results over time to see if finding the cancer early decreases one's chances of dying from the disease. Three such screening tests include:

  • Chest x-ray: A plain x-ray of your chest. An x-ray of the organs and bones inside the chest. Chest x-ray is no longer recommended for screening.
  • Sputum cytology: A sample of mucus you cough up from the lungs (called sputum or phlegm) is looked at under a microscope to see if cancer cells are present. Sputum cytology is a procedure in which doctors view a sample of sputum (mucus that is coughed up from the lungs) under a microscope to check for cancer cells
  • Low-dose spiral CT scan: A CT (or CAT) scan is a special kind of x-ray that takes many pictures as you lie on a table that slides in and out of the machine. A computer then combines these pictures into a detailed picture of a slice of your body. A procedure that uses low-dose radiation to make a series of very detailed pictures of areas inside the body.

Of these tests, studies showed that only low-dose spiral CT (LDCT) scan reduced the risk of dying from lung cancer in high-risk populations. Chest x-ray and sputum cytology are two screening tests that have been used to check for signs of lung cancer, but do not decrease the risk of dying from lung cancer.

Resources for You

You may have many questions when considering screening for lung cancer. These resources can help you understand lung cancer screening.

Should You Get Screened for Lung Cancer?

Tools for Scheduling a Screening

Lung Cancer Screening Insurance Coverage

For Health Professionals

Providing Guidance on Lung Cancer Screening to Patients and Physicians

This report (April 2015) is an update on lung cancer screening from the American Lung Association Lung Cancer Screening Committee.

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