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Should You Have a Yearly Screening for Lung Cancer

Should You Have a Yearly Lung Cancer Screening?

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Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in men and women in the United States.

The American Cancer Society estimates that roughly 228,820 new cases of lung cancer will be diagnosed in 2020, with about 135,720 deaths. This represents about 25% of all cancer deaths. More people die of lung cancer than breast cancer, prostate cancer and colon cancer combined. Although statistics indicate that the smoking rate is decreasing, we still estimate that over 30% of the U.S. population are current or former smokers.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Do you feel your lungs expanding and contracting? Your lungs’ primary function is to exchange gas, allowing oxygen to enter your bloodstream while releasing carbon dioxide. It’s critically important to keep your lungs healthy by avoiding pollutants and cigarettes. The longer you’re exposed to these toxins, the higher your chances are of developing lung cancer.

Who should schedule a yearly screening for early detection of lung cancer?

Suppose you’re at high risk for potentially developing lung cancer. In that case, screening for early detection will improve your lung cancer survival rate. The following groups are considered high-risk for lung cancer and should talk to their provider about an annual screening:

  • Adults between the age of 55-57
  • Current or former smokers who have quit in the past 15 years with at least a 30-pack year history of smoking cigarettes (i.e., one pack a day for 30 years)
  • Individuals who are able and willing to undergo a lung biopsy or surgery

How do I schedule a CT screening for lung cancer?

If you are in a high-risk group for lung cancer, you should discuss the pros and cons of screening with your doctor and decide if you’re a candidate for a CT scan for lung cancer. The scan may be scheduled once your physician orders the test. If you are a current smoker, you may also be offered an appointment with a smoking cessation specialist.

A CT scan has a greater chance of displaying lung tumors than routine chest x-rays and can show the size, shape and position of any lung tumors. CT scans can also help find enlarged lymph nodes that might contain cancer that has spread.

How much does a CT scan cost?

CT scans are covered by most insurance plans. 

When will I receive the results?

You should receive your results from your doctor’s office within 48 hours of the test. At Ochsner Health, you should also receive a letter from one of our lung cancer screen navigators. If the results show nodules larger than 8mm, early lung cancer may be represented. Depending on the size of these nodules, radiologists and lung cancer specialists will give recommendations on the best way to manage and monitor these nodules. Strategies may include:

  • Monitoring the nodules with additional CT scans over a two-year time period.
  • Biopsy
  • Surgery to have it removed

Editor's note: This article was first published on Nov. 13, 2019. 

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