People with cancer typically don’t show symptoms until cancer has spread, which makes it difficult to treat. That’s why the idea of screening – looking for lung cancer in people who do not have any symptoms – is appealing and can be helpful. It has the potential to find cancer earlier when it might be easier to treat.
The people who are most likely to benefit from screening are those at higher risk for lung cancer. Decisions about scheduling a screening during the COVID-19 pandemic depend on many factors, and they may not be the same for every person. Talk to your healthcare provider about what the best decision for you might be.
How lung screening works
CT lung screening is a non-invasive, painless procedure that uses low-dose X-rays to screen the lungs for cancer in just 30 seconds. A CT lung screening allows the radiologist to look at different levels, or slices, of the lungs, using a rotating X-ray beam. It is performed on a multislice spiral computed tomography (CT) scanner and can detect smaller nodules or cancer than standard chest X-rays.
During the exam, patients lie on their backs on an exam table with arms above the head. They must hold their breath briefly as the pictures are being taken. For a short period of time, the body may be covered by a scanner, but the scanner is open at the back and front so that the patient can see out. The technologist is always able to see and hear the patient during the five-minute procedure. CT lung screening does involve exposure to radiation in the form of X-rays, but the benefit of an accurate diagnosis far outweighs the risk.
Who should be screened?
The American Cancer Society recommends yearly lung cancer screening with low-dose CT scans for people who are 55 to 74 years old, are in fairly good health, and who also meet the following conditions:
- Currently smoke or have quit in the past 15 years.
- Have at least a 30 pack-year smoking history. (This is the number of years you smoked multiplied by the number of packs of cigarettes per day. For example, someone who smoked 2 packs per day for 15 years [2 x 15 = 30] has 30 pack-years of smoking. A person who smoked 1 pack per day for 30 years [1x 30 = 30] also has 30 pack-years of smoking.)
- Receive counseling to quit smoking if they currently smoke.
- Have been told by their doctor about the possible benefits, limits, and harms of screening with LDCT scans.
Have a facility where they can go that has experience in lung cancer screening and treatment.
Signs and symptoms of lung cancer
Although it is not common, lung cancer sometimes causes symptoms in the early stages. Most of the symptoms are more likely to be caused by something that isn’t lung cancer. But it’s important to go to the doctor so the cause can be found and treated. And if it does turn out to be lung cancer, it might be diagnosed at an earlier stage, when treatment is more likely to be effective.
The most common symptoms of lung cancer are:
- A cough that does not go away or gets worse
- Chest pain that is often worse with deep breathing, coughing, or laughing
- Unexplained weight loss and loss of appetite
- Coughing up blood or rust-colored sputum (spit or phlegm)
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling tired or weak
- Infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia that won’t go away or keeps coming back
- New onset of wheezing
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. Contact us at [email protected] if you’d like help thinking through some of these decisions.