The importance of early lung cancer screening and treatment cannot be overstated. According to the World Health Organization, nearly 20% of all cancer deaths are due to lung cancer. And although lung cancer and breast cancer are diagnosed at the same rate, lung cancer kills more people per year than breast, colon and prostate cancers combined.
In support of World Lung Cancer Day, we at Britcher Leone, LLC, want to make sure our readers know that early detection is key to survival when it comes to lung cancer. Screening is recommended for those at high risk for lung cancer because of a long smoking history. Screening is designed for eligible smokers even if they appear healthy and show no signs of illness, because usually it’s too late to cure lung cancer by the time outward symptoms appear. Screening is a relatively simple procedure that involves a low-dose computerized tomography scan (CT Scan) of the chest.
Why get screened if there are no symptoms?
As with many cancer screenings, screening and early detection lead to a better chance of recovery and cure. Smokers who should get annual screening are:
- Current or former smokers who are 50 years old and older;
- Those who have a 20 pack per year history (which equals the number of years of smoking multiplied by the average number of cigarettes smoked a day); and
- Those who have smoked a cigarette within the last 15 years (the lung cancer risk for smokers declines to normal once a smoker has stopped for 15 years).
While peoples’ smoking habits likely change over time, it is best to try and determine a total amount for all the years of smoking and share this information with your medical team so they can determine if you are eligible for screening. Patients need to be honest and forthcoming about their smoking history, and physicians must determine eligibility and recommend screening within the guidelines.
The risks of screening
CT Scanning detects lung nodules in the lungs, but many are not cancerous. On the other hand, cancerous nodules if not removed early spread and are fatal. So along with the benefits of screening, there are some risks:
- There is exposure to a low level of radiation from the test but it is less than a person receives annually from the sun.
- Some cancers grow slowly and ultimately would not impact the patient’s quality of life, but treating them may cause harm.
- A false-positive result means that a person undergoes further testing for a nodule that shows no cancer.
Everyone’s health is different, so smokers should discuss lung cancer screening with their doctors. Patients need to be honest and forthright about their smoking history. Doctors need to determine eligibility and recommend lung cancer screening for those eligible. Screening makes a difference and saves lives.