Should you get screened for lung cancer?

If you are over the age of 55 and you are a smoker, there is a good chance your physician has recommended that you get a lung scan to screen for lung cancer. There are good reasons for this. With Kentucky having one of the highest rates of lung cancer in the U.S., screening at-risk individuals can help catch cancers while they’re still treatable. Screening has actually been shown to reduce lung cancer deaths by about 20 percent because it has the ability to detect lung cancer early, before symptoms begin.

So, if you’re considered a candidate for lung cancer screening, what should you expect?

About low-dose CT lung cancer screenings

A chest CT scan takes minutes and can detect whether you have the “pulmonary nodules” which can be an early sign of lung cancer. Keep in mind, the screening can only show if a nodule is present, but not if it is cancerous. Most nodules are benign, but a scan with nodules present will alert your physician to the need to do further testing, such as biopsies.

Lung cancer screenings are good for more than just finding nodules. It can also screen for a wide variety of other lung conditions or lung damage patients may not even realize they have. It’s a remarkably useful diagnostic tool, with radiation levels similar to a simple mammogram.

Who should get a lung cancer screening?

If you have insurance, most will cover an annual lung cancer screen if you are considered “high risk” and/or you are between the ages of 55 to 80 (Medicare is ages 55 to 77).

Patients are considered high risk if they have lung cancer in their family history. Other people considered high risk are smokers, or former smokers, who have quit within the last 15 years. It’s important to note that smokers are eligible when they have “pack years” higher than 30. Pack years are calculated based on the number of years you have smoked multiplied by the number of packs you smoke a day. So, for instance, a smoker who has smoked two packs of cigarettes a day for 15 years is considered at the 30 pack years level (15 years smoked x 2 packs a day = 30 pack years).

Scheduling your lung scan

Your primary care physician should be able to direct you to the nearest screening facility covered by your health plan. If it’s recommended to you, don’t hesitate to be screened. A lung scan can be the difference between catching a condition early, or too late. And remember, lung cancer is not the death sentence it used to be. Many effective treatments, such as immunotherapy, are available today that can help cancer patients lead long and healthy lives.

It’s important to discuss your lung health with a primary care provider. Call 502-588-4343 to schedule an appointment with UofL Physicians – Primary Care. A low dose lung CT can be scheduled with UofL Health by calling 502-210-4497. If a lung nodule is found during your scan, you may request a consultation with a pulmonologist (lung specialist) in my office. Contact UofL Physicians – Pulmonology at 502-588-4600.