Who should get a lung cancer screening?

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A CT lung screening is the only early detection test for lung cancer.

With any form of cancer, early detection is crucial. This allows oncologists to begin treatments before the cancer has had a chance to grow and potentially spread to other areas of the body.

In terms of lung cancer, early detection comes in the form of a low-dose CT (computerized tomography) scan, which uses a low dose of radiation to image the lungs, allowing oncologists to see and diagnose lung cancer in its most treatable form.

The link between smoking and lung cancer has been well established as a major risk factor for the disease. So, the question then becomes: Who should get screened, and when?

Who should get screened?

In guidelines created by the US Preventive Services Task Force and endorsed by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those who would benefit most from a discussion with their primary care physician about a screening would be:

Those who have a history of heavy smoking (30 pack-year)
Currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years
Are older than 55, but under 80

For as long as a patient fits these guidelines, a screening is recommended every year.

What is a pack-year?

While the term “heavy smoker” is subjective, researchers have developed the metric pack-year to gauge if a smoker’s habit is considered heavy or not.

A pack-year is determined by multiplying the number of packs of cigarettes smoked per day by the number of years that person has been a smoker.

For instance, if a smoker has a one-pack-per-day habit for 15 years, they would have a 15 pack-year number. If they were a two-pack-per-day smoker for 20 years, they have a 40 pack-year smoking history.

Lung cancer symptoms and risk factors

Early symptoms

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Reduced energy

Additional symptoms

  • Chronic cough
  • Coughing up blood
  • Hoarseness
  • Wheezing
  • Frequent shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Bone pain

Risk factors

  • Smoking
  • Exposure to secondhand smoke
  • Family history of lung cancer
  • Exposure to radon gas, asbestos and other carcinogens