Lung cancer is the third most common cancer and the leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States. The biggest risk factor for the disease is smoking, which causes 85 percent of lung cancer cases.
When found early, lung cancer is treatable. But symptoms don’t usually appear until the cancer is advanced. Screening tests are available that can help detect the presence of lung cancer, but many people don’t know if and when they should be screened.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the American Cancer Society recommend that adults between the ages of 55 and 74 who have at least a 30 pack-year smoking history (equal to smoking a pack a day for 30 years or 2 packs a day for 15 years) and currently smoke or who have quit in the past 15 years get an annual low-dose chest CT scan. The National Lung Screening Trial found that people who got a low-dose CT scan had a 20 percent lower chance of dying from lung cancer than those who got chest x-rays.
The goal of this recommendation is to make it easier to identify lung cancer at its earliest stage, when it has the highest chance of being cured. The CT scan is non-invasive and only takes about 10 minutes. You should note, however, that getting screened for lung cancer is not a substitute for quitting smoking. The best way to lower your risk for lung cancer is to quit.
The most common risk with the screening is finding abnormal readings that require further testing but are not actually cancer. This is why the test is only recommended for heavy smokers who are 55-74 and are otherwise relatively healthy. If you’re concerned about whether you should be screened for lung cancer due to your age and smoking history, talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits so you can decide if this test is right for you.
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