November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month which means there is extra attention being placed onto the importance of screening for the disease, especially when there may not be symptoms of lung cancer present yet. Screening means testing for a disease when there are no symptoms or history of that disease. Doctors recommend a screening test to find a disease early, when treatment may work better. This is especially true for those trying to diagnose lung cancer based on lifestyle or family history to reduce the risk of dying from the disease.
The only recommended screening test for lung cancer is low-dose computed tomography (also called a low-dose CT scan. Screening with low-dose CT has been shown to reduce lung cancer mortality by 20–33% in high-risk populations which could save an additional 10 000–20 000 lives each year.
What is a CT scan?
Computerized tomography (CT or CAT) takes a series of x-rays at different angles to create detailed images of the internal body. A CT scan usually takes about 15-30 minutes. During a CT scan, you lie on a table and an X-ray machine uses a low dose (amount) of radiation to make detailed images of your lungs. The scan only takes a few minutes and is not painful. For lung cancer screening, it is more or less a series of chest x-rays.
CT scans often use contrast materials to help get clearer x-ray images of the area being scanned. While contrast side effects are rare and often mild, patients should always inform the radiologist or technologist if they have a history of allergic reactions (especially to medications, previous iodine injections, or shellfish), diabetes, asthma, a heart condition, kidney problems, or thyroid conditions. These conditions may indicate a higher risk of iodine reactions or problems with eliminating the iodine after the exam.
Who Should Be Screened for Lung Cancer?
In March, 2021, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) updated their lung cancer screening guidelines. This marks the first change in the guidelines since screening with low-dose CT was initially recommended by the USPSTF in 2013.
The USPSTF recommends yearly lung cancer screening with low-dose CT scans for people who—
- Have a 20 pack-year or more smoking history, and
- Smoke now or have quit within the past 15 years, and
- Are between 50 and 80 years old.
A pack-year is smoking an average of one pack of cigarettes per day for one year. For example, a person could have a 20 pack-year history by smoking one pack a day for 20 years or two packs a day for 10 years. Prolonged exposure to secondhand smoke should also be mentioned to your doctor as a reason to request a lung cancer screening.
Lung Cancer Screening Risks
Lung cancer screening has at least three risks—
- A lung cancer screening test can suggest that a person has lung cancer when no cancer is present. This is called a false-positive result. False-positive results can lead to follow-up tests and surgeries that are not needed and may have more risks.
- A lung cancer screening test can find cases of cancer that may never have caused a problem for the patient. This is called over-diagnosis. Over-diagnosis can lead to treatment that is not needed.
- Radiation from repeated LDCT scans can cause cancer in otherwise healthy people. This is one of the main health risks associated with medical imaging involving any type of radiation.
That is why lung cancer screening is recommended only for adults who are at high risk for developing the disease because of their smoking history and age, and who do not have a health problem that substantially limits their life expectancy or their ability or willingness to have lung surgery, if needed.
If you are thinking about getting screened, talk to your doctor. If lung cancer screening is right for you, you or your doctor can schedule a low-dose CT scan at medmo.com/request-scan.
To book a scan, visit us at Medmo.com. Medmo helps people schedule radiology imaging tests – such as MRI, CT scans, PET, and more – at nearby accredited centers and identify the payment solution that works best for them.