Should you consider a lung cancer screening?

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month.

Of the many forms of cancer, lung cancer could be considered the most devastating, accounting for approximately one out of every five cancer deaths. More patients die of lung cancer yearly than breast, colon and prostate cancer combined.

Early on, lung cancer does not usually present symptoms. By the time patients experience symptoms, the cancer may have already spread. Common signs and symptoms can be:

  • A cough that does not go away
  • A cough that causes you to bring up blood
  • Shortness of breath, wheezing or hoarseness
  • Chest pain
  • Swelling of the face and neck
  • Arm pain or weakness

Finding lung cancer in an early stage gives the patient a greater chance for a positive outcome. That’s why understanding if you should be screened for lung cancer is important.

Cigarette smoking is the leading risk factor for lung cancer, so those who should consider a low-dose computed tomography (CT) lung cancer screening are:

  • Current smokers or former smokers who have quit within the past 15 years with at least a 20-pack-year smoking history
  • Between the ages of 50 and 80

Lung cancer screening is covered by Medicare for patients 50-77 years old and most commercial insurance plans cover screening for patients 55-80. There is usually no out-of-pocket cost for low-dose CT lung screening. Still, it is best to speak with your insurance provider about coverage.

computed tomography (CT) scan is the standard method for lung cancer screening. The machine takes pictures of the entire chest and allows clinicians to see minor lung abnormalities. Most low-dose CT scans take around 15 - 30 minutes to complete. The scan is associated with minimal radiation exposure and detects abnormalities in the chest and lungs. Lung cancer screenings should be done annually.

Oncologists advise not to wait for a symptom before acting, especially if you meet the criteria above of someone who should consider lung cancer screening. Reach out to your local Karmanos Cancer Institute or McLaren location to learn more about the lung cancer screening programs they offer. And if you’re looking to quit smoking, you can find resources at